BY CHRIS MCNULTY
FORMER Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given is expected to link up with the Donegal senior football team before the end of this week.
Given was reported to have been set to attend Wednesday night’s training session in Convoy, but the 38-year-old Liffordman was not present. Given is on holiday in his native Donegal and is likely to be in attendance on Friday night when Jim McGuinness’s side get together.
The 125-times capped goalkeeper, promoted to assistant manager to Paul Lambert at Aston Villa before the end of the Premier League season, has an active interest in Gaelic football and was at Celtic Park on Sunday to cheer on Donegal in their Ulster SFC win over Derry.
“It’s really just a case of mingling with the players, having a chat and seeing if there is anything I can help with,” Given said of his planned meet up with the Donegal squad.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a case of me having things to impart to Jim and his coaching staff, it’s more a case of me learning from Jim.”
Given is good friends with Pat Shovelin, the Donegal goalkeeping coach, who has visited Given at Villa to observe their goalkeepers in training.
In the moments after Donegal’s All-Ireland win in 2012 Given spoke to Jim McGuinness who himself has been combining codes since being appointed as a Performance Consultant at Celtic following Donegal’s capturing of Sam Maguire.
The paths of McGuinness and Given crossed last February when they attended Celtic’s Champions League clash with Juventus at Celtic Park.
Given played underage Gaelic football with his native Naomh Padraig. In 1987, the club won its first ever championship at any grade when, with the eleven-year-old Given in goal, they beat Urris 0-6 to 0-3 in an Under-14 B final replay.
‘In goalkeeper Shay Given, they have a real talent,” the Donegal News’ report from that game read. “He saved his side on many occasions.’
Last year in an interview, Given spoke of his grounding in GAA. “I think it toughened me up a lot. It certainly helped me with dealing with high balls and coming for crosses,” he said. “It was good to help judgement of the high ball and the physical nature of it certainly helped as well.”
Should Given attend Donegal training this week he would not be the first high-profile sportsman to address a Tir Chonaill team. Before Donegal’s All-Ireland qualifier win over Galway at Markievicz Park in 2009, golfer Paul McGinley – whose father, Mick, is from Dunfanaghy and is a former Donegal footballer – gave John Joe Doherty’s team a pep talk.
He would also be continuing a trend of sportsmen crossing codes after ex-Connacht captain Gavin Duffy joined the Mayo panel in the last couple of weeks while 2005 and 2007 European Indoor 400m champion David Gillick lined up in midfield for Ballinteer St John’s in the Dublin SFC.