Given, the Greatest, Hangs Up Gloves

He sat ringside at London’s ExCel Arena. Around him, thousands of green-clad Irish were in raptures creating a cauldron of noise as Ireland’s sporting superstar, Kate Taylor, powered to Olympic gold. Shay Given would have experienced a similar atmosphere in his earlier international days, like when the Dutch were put to the sword at a heaving Lansdowne Road. As he hangs up his gloves, trying to replace Given could prove a knock-out blow to our future qualifying hopes.

The decision by Shay to quit the international scene came just a couple of days after witnessing Katie Taylor make history in London. The mere mention of the Bray bruiser’s name causes Irish people to break into a smile. Contrast that with the state of the international soccer team. This week’s friendly with Serbia is being met with rolled eyes as the fall-out from Poland continues.

The football bandwagon derailed in eastern Europe. Perhaps it is better that Shay should step aside now rather than witness the half empty stadiums that seem inevitable on the World Cup qualifying campaign ahead.

Given, however, leaves the international arena with his head held high. A record 125 caps for his country is only surpassed by the Donegalman’s elevation to the category of our finest ever players, certainly a contender for our greatest goalkeeper.

It’s sad that he should go out with criticism of his performances in Poland trailing him. The popular consensus is that Shay was not fit but those doubts were dismissed prior to the tournament. He had been examined by the Irish medical team but perhaps the Aston Villa shot-stopper lacked match sharpness which contributed to uncharacteristic mistakes.

What was also uncharacteristic was the porous defence that operated in front of the Lifford native’s goalmouth. A back four so miserly in qualifying – we took a 14 game unbeaten run into the tournament- conceded 9 goals in just three games in Poland, and with no shield to protect him, Given was always vulnerable to shots finding the target. At 14, he made the most saves of any goalkeeper in the Championship.

Again, Given receives little credit for his quite spectacular performance against Spain. His heroics were overshadowed by the humiliating score-line when his efforts were let down so badly by the ten men in green in front of him.

Given made his international début in 1996 at the age of just 19 taking up the baton from his childhood hero Packie Bonner. Despite his tender years, he succeeded in keeping the excellent Alan Kelly out of this side until injury allowed the elder custodian to take his place during qualifying  for Euro 2000. Kelly won Irish Player of the Year that year emphasising what a fine ‘keeper he was in his own right, and highlighting just how good Given had to be to start ahead of him between the posts.

Sixteen years of service saw Shay amass 125 caps for his country. His world-class ability as a net-minder made him one of Ireland’s most influential players, twice earning senior player of the year in 2005 and 2006.

The decision of the 36-year-old to call time on his international career has plunged the Republic into something of a goalkeeping crisis. First choice reserve Keiren Westwood was unable to force his way into Sunderland’s first team following his transfer to the Stadium of Light last season

Our other options between the sticks operate in Britain’s lower divisions with Euro squad members David Forde at Millwall holding just two international appearances while Darren Randolph is with Motherwelll in the SPL.

Could Given’s retirement open the door for a possible recall of Paddy Kenny?

Shay Given has told international manager Giovanni Trapattoni he remains available in the case of a selection emergency. Ironically, his departure may have caused such a scenario. He is considered one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers but may well be regarded as the finest ever to play for Ireland. With Shay between the posts, Irish fans always knew we had a last line of defence. For the first time in 16 years, it’s no longer in safe hands.

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