The second player to appear in our countdown which runs until St Patrick's Day is the Aston Villa goalkeeper who has pulled Ireland out of the fire on many an occasion
By Ronan Murphy
Ireland’s most-capped international player is also, arguably, the country’s greatest ever goalkeeper. Following in the footsteps of fellow Donegalman Packie Bonner was no easy feat. However, since his debut against Russia in March 1996, Irish fans have known they are in safe hands.
Given was named in Mick McCarthy’s first Ireland squad, but was not expected to start in goal. Fate intervened, however; Alan Kelly and Keith Branagan were both ruled out. The then 19-year-old keeper was on loan at Sunderland from Blackburn Rovers, and had kept 11 clean sheets in 14 games on Sunderland’s run to the top of the First Division table.
Although Russia won 2-0, Given could not be faulted for either. After the game, he was roundly singled out for praise, with Ireland legend and then Irish Independent columnist Paul McGrath complimenting 'his handling and reactions' as being 'very impressive'.
At Blackburn, the Lifford youngster found it hard to displace Rovers’ number one Tim Flowers though, and was sold to Newcastle United following his promotion-winning season.
Given in command during Ireland's recent international friendly against Czech Republic
Clubs: Celtic 1991-94, Blackburn Rovers 1994-97, Swindon Town (loan) 1996, Sunderland (loan) 1996, Newcastle United 1997-2009, Manchester City 2009-11, Aston Villa 2011-Present
Honours: Football League First Division 1995–96
Uefa Intertoto Cup 2006–07
FA Cup 2010-11
Carling Nations Cup 2011
He helped Newcastle to a Champions League qualification spot, and was on his way to Japan and South Korea for the 2002 World Cup with Ireland – his first opportunity to showcase his talents at a major tournament after starring in the Intercontinental playoff tie against Iran.
Key saves against Germany and Cameroon helped Ireland to two crucial points, and a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia sent McCarthy’s men to the knockout stages.
In the next round, Given was unlucky not to save Gaizka Mendieta’s penalty in the shootout which sent Spain through to the quarter finals.
Many challengers have come and gone over the past decade, but Given has remained undoubtedly Ireland’s first choice. He is now vice-captain under Giovanni Trapattoni and the Italian boss singled him out after Ireland’s epic 0-0 draw with Russia in Moscow which helped send the Boys in Green to their first international tournament in 10 years.
Given admitted that he joined Manchester City in 2009 to win trophies, but his only medal at the club came after the emergence of England number one Joe Hart.
He watched on from the sidelines as Hart played in the 2011 FA Cup final and, after two and a half seasons, moved on to Aston Villa for £3.5 million. He signed a five-year deal at Villa Park, which will keep him there until his 40th birthday.
|"He is the best keeper in the Premier League; a world-class goalkeeper and someone who is great to have around the dressing room as well"
- Ireland team-mate Robbie Keane
This summer, Given will face the likes of Fernando Llorente and Giampaolo Pazzini at Euro 2012, but will be more than a match for the Mediterranean attackers as he remains one of the best shot-stoppers in the game.
Long after he retires, Given will be remembered as the greatest Irish goalkeeper ever, with fans on bar stools remembering so many crucial saves for Ireland.
It will be a long time before anyone comes along to fill his gloves.