Ireland's greatest-ever goalkeeper has been a mainstay in the line-up but has decided to hang up his international gloves in order to concentrate on his club careerOn Wednesday, tens of thousands of 17, 18, and 19-year-olds across Ireland will be preparing for the rest of their lives and their future careers when they open their Leaving Certificate results. Back in 1996, one 19-year-old Irishman saw a similar bit of paper with his name at the top. Shay Given was named at number one for Mick McCarthy's first international as Republic of Ireland boss.
Given played the full 90 minutes against Russia in March 1996 to win his first Irish cap. Russia won 2-0 at Lansdowne Road, but Given could do nothing for either goal, and was praised by Paul McGrath after the game. "I thought young Shay Given was very impressive in goal," McGrath told the Irish Independent. "His handling and reactions were very impressive and nobody could fault him for the two goals that Russia scored."
|Ireland debut: March 1996
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
A move to Newcastle United for £1.5 million in the summer of 1997 saw him become first choice at St James's Park, while Dion Dublin scored a bizarre goal by sneaking in after an unaware Given rolled the ball out for a long kick up field. Since then, Given always looks behind him before kick-outs in case lightning strikes twice. Injury struck for Given in 1999 which saw Steve Harper take his place for Newcastle and Alan Kelly fill his spot in goal for Ireland.
Given returned to the Ireland lineup for World Cup 2002 qualifying, and put in heroic displays against Portugal and the Netherlands to help Ireland reach another playoff. This time, a number of world class saves from Given against Iran saw Ireland progress 2-1 on aggregate and gave him a chance to shine on the world stage.
Against Iran, double saves against Ali Karimi and Karim Bagheri were crucial to Ireland's progress, and Given's celebrations at the final whistle mirrored the delight of every Irish fan. "I didn't care where I was, it was a tremendous feeling to know that I would be playing in the World Cup finals," Given told World Soccer magazine after the match in Tehran. "Not many people gave us a chance at the start of qualifying, but to have knocked out Holland, finish second to Portugal and remain unbeaten in the group was a fantastic achievement."
Ireland reached the knockout round of the 2002 World Cup, with Given having the best year of his career. He was fantastic in Japan and South Korea, and had just been named in the PFA Team of the Year while Newcastle qualified for the Champions League.
After the departure of Mick McCarthy, Ireland appointed Brian Kerr and then Steve Staunton to guide the Boys in Green to major tournaments, but time and again Ireland missed out. However, Given was a mainstay in goal for club and country, and transferred to Manchester City for £7 million in 2009. The same year, Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland side were robbed of 2010 World Cup qualification by Thierry Henry's handball in Paris, but Given received plaudits in England, being named as Henry Winter's goalkeeper of the Noughties in the Daily Telegraph.
Given finally got a chance to return to a major tournament in 2012, with the now Aston Villa goalkeeper keeping six clean sheets in qualifying to reach Ireland's first tournament in a decade. Euro 2012 gave Given a chance to play at the highest stage once again, and bow out after 125 international appearances over a 16 year international career.
Now 36, Given still has three years left on his Aston Villa contract, and will focus on his club commitments as well as his family.
Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni paid tribute to Ireland's most capped player yesterday, saying "I understand the difficult decision that Shay had to make, and appreciate all of his efforts during his international career. He is a strong player, with a great character and his love of playing for his country always shone through. It has been a pleasure to work with him during my time with the team. I wish him the very best in his future."