The Evening Echo caught up with Ireland's number one, Shay
Given, just before Newcastle's disappointing 2-1 defeat in the
FA Cup against Liverpool at Anfield.
County Donegal has provided Ireland with two of its most
celebrated and most-capped goalkeepers in Packie Bonner and
Both made the journey across the water to join
Glasgow Celtic and their youth set up while still in their
But while Bonner remained a one club professional, Shay
Given departed for Blackburn (and then Swindon and Sunderland
on loan) before settling with Kenny Dalglish's Newcastle
nearly seven years ago, quickly making the number one jersey his
If that much is common knowledge, recent revelations that Shay
turned down the mighty Manchester United (and Frank
Stapleton's Bradford!) to head for Glasgow, were less so.
"I was on trial for a couple of weeks at Manchester
United before I joined Celtic, but I got injured after only a
few days and they looked after us really well. I could have
gone there as well, but I decided to go to Celtic where Liam
Brady was the manager and Packie Bonner was the
"I had the chance of doing something up there at Celtic,
whereas Peter Schmeichel was the goalkeeper at Manchester
United and would have been quite young, so I didn't think
there was any chance of getting in there. I've few complaints
to be honest with you, things worked out for me."
And on turning down Irish legend Frank Stapleton while he was
manager at Bradford: "Yeah, I went there for a period on
trial as well, I played in a youth tournament for them at
Leeds, and Frank was the manager then and was interested as
Seamus Given was also a keeper in his day, and as Shay
reveals, shaped his son's early playing career. "Yeah, as a
young lad he was always giving advice to me, and he really
helped me… well, decided I should go to Celtic more or less,
and you have to do what your Da has to say when you're
"Maybe I would have picked Man United as a young kid at
15… but then maybe I wouldn't have been nearly as successful
or picked up so many caps for Ireland. And to be honest with
you, I think these things happen for a reason, and I've no
regrets at all."
It also emerges that the man who would have blocked Shay's
path to the first team had he joined United, was his all-time
hero: "Peter Schmeichel was the ultimate one for me and a
real legend; his gloves and jersey take pride of place at home
from when I played against him when he came back to Aston
Villa. He's a legend in my eyes."
Other heroes to get a mention include Ireland's current
goalkeeping coach: "Packie Bonner too of course, coming
from Donegal and watching the Ireland games."
Seaman's recent retirement: "Ah yeah, he's a class keeper
too, he was a great keeper, and I've his jersey at home too,
but Schmeichel's the real hero for me."
Seamus Given once predicted his son would play for Ireland
before he turned 21. Mick McCarthy obliged by selecting Shay
for his debut against Russia aged just 19 in 1996 ("yeah,
that was superb"). Packie Bonner was 21 before achieving
the same feat and went on to win 80 international caps. Dean
Kiely was 29 years old, but how does Shay feel about the
Charlton keeper's decision to concentrate on his club career?
"I wanna play every game for Ireland, ya know, so I'm not
that fussed. On a personal level I wanna get as many caps as
possible. Obviously Dean made the decision to pack it in, and
you'd have to ask him why that was, but I can only look at it
from the point of view of my own situation, and I wanna play
every game for Ireland."
With Kiely gone, Shay's honesty continues on the question of
who might emerge in the long-term to threaten his hold on the
Irish jersey. "I don't know, but when you look at Nicky
Colgan (Hibernian) and Joe Murphy (West Brom), they're both
great keepers but they're not getting games for their clubs,
and they need to get in there and playing first team
"I know Paddy Kenny at Sheffield United has Irish
connections, and they might look at bringing him in, and he's
been doing exceptionally well at Sheffield United. Graham
Stack (Arsenal) is getting some games and he looks
comfortable, so we do have some good young keepers coming
through, and I'm getting old, I'm pushing on now at 27! But
the goalkeepers stick together of course…"
Speaking of goalkeepers sticking together, Shay hadn't read
the recent comments from Bob Wilson, labelling him a 'truly
great keeper', drawing particular attention to his incredible
reflexes and reaction times. Wilson also compared Given to the
great Gordon Banks.
"Was he drinking at the time, no?"
"Obviously it's great to hear something like that from
such a well respected and great keeper of class himself who's
still involved in the game, but…" his voice trails off
with modest embarrassment.
Matters of interest to Irish fans, such as the upcoming visit
of Brazil to Lansdowne Road, represent safer ground. "Yea
well, they're the World Champions, so of course we're looking
to test ourselves against them. It's a game we're looking
forward to. It'll be a tough game for us, and we don't want to
put too much pressure on, but it's one we're looking forward
And on facing France, Switzerland and the rest in the World
Cup qualifiers next season: "Aye, the draw was
interesting, and it's a tough draw, you know, but the games
don't always go the way you'd expect them, they're tough to
predict. And obviously France will be hot favourites, so
that'll be tough. A lot of games are hard to predict, like
when you look back over our last campaigns as well. France was
probably one of the toughest teams to draw we could have got,
and the Swiss are well known to us already. But we're looking
forward to it."
With the stadium issue at long last looking resolved, Shay
hadn't seen the plans for redeveloping Lansdowne Road
("you hear different things over here all the
time"), but was eager to hear of the latest news from
Ireland. In a scenario where the FAI may fail to gain a
derogation on the temporary seating ruling, we look at the
Croke Park? (pictured)
"Superb Stadium. Yeah, I saw Donegal play
there in the semi of the All Ireland, and it’s just a
It wasn't the Croke Park I knew from the
past. The stadium is amazing there now; it'd be good to play
our games there."
So Croke Park as opposed to one of the stadiums in Britain.
"Yeah definitely, and obviously the players' preference
would be to play the games at home in Ireland, in whichever
stadium. You want to play your home games in Ireland."
Shay followed the fortunes of the Under-20s in the World Youth
Championships in the UAE, "I did, they came back strongly
against Colombia having been 2-0 down and forcing the game
into injury time before losing in extra time. They're going
"And we need more players coming though, it's very
important some of these players come through cos we haven't
got the biggest pool of players to choose from, we haven't got
the biggest of squads."
Not surprisingly then, some of Ireland's hotter prospects get
high praise: "We saw Liam Miller in training with Ireland
for the last squad and I've seen him play for Celtic on TV you
know. He looked very good obviously before his injury and not
being able to play against Canada, but he's a brilliant player
- Manchester United don’t sign many bad players!"
"There's a lot of excitement and hype surrounding him
back in Ireland, so you just hope it all goes well for him.
Big things are expected of him."
Shay's thoughts turn to Colin Healy who picked up 13 caps for
Ireland before his injury, "It's a shame, he was just
getting up his match fitness, he was looking really good, it
was a bad injury and that, ya know.
"He’s a very solid player, and was looking very strong
up until the time of his injury. And he was also becoming a
first choice for Ireland. So you just wish him all the best
and hope that he comes back as strong as ever."
At least Healy has time to rehabilitate and recover before the
World Cup qualifiers next season. Andy's Reid prospects look
more immediate: "Yeah he looked superb against Canada, he
was brilliant, and it was only his first game as well."
"I played behind him for the game against Canada and he
looks a good talent, and we just need players like that to
develop. I understand Spurs could be in for him again soon
although they just picked up Michael Brown from Sheffield
United who looks good too, so who knows."
And Brian Kerr is taking the national team in the right
direction having done so much to revive the last campaign,
"Yea, obviously it was very disappointing that we
couldn't make it for the manager, but we got off to such a bad
start that it was always going to be difficult. And we're
putting in some solid performances now."
The same could be said of Newcastle where Given makes his
living, with slow starts and then gradual improvement over a
season the feature of Bobby Robson's three-year reign as manager.
"Yeah, obviously we would have liked to have started
better, but we had a good win against Southampton in the FA
Cup [Newcastle subsequently lost to Liverpool in the fourth
round], and good results against Manchester United and Fulham
in the League. But we often start the season slow, as was the
case over the last couple of seasons. It's something we'll
have to work on."
"The defence is now looking very solid, with Jonathan
Woodgate and Andy O’Brien in particular putting in some
great performances. Obviously the aim is for a Champions
League place, and we’re looking to get in there, but so are
Liverpool and Charlton. And we're still in the UEFA Cup."
The good run coincided with comments from Newcastle Chairman,
Freddie Shepherd, at the end of last year: "The players
of this football club are given Rolls-Royce treatment, but
we're not getting Rolls-Royce performances in return."
Did the criticism hurt their professional pride or was it the
players and manager who should take credit for turning things
around? "Well the Chairman wasn’t saying anything the
players didn't already know, and I'd say it was a bit of both
in terms of getting things back on track. The manager is
touching 71, but hopefully will stay on and is on a 12-month
rolling contract. It's probably a case of rolling out of bed
each morning and continuing in the job."
An inquiry of how the player views his own strengths and
weaknesses get the only curt reply: "I don't do
weaknesses, man. I don't have any weaknesses - positive mental
attitude. Strive to improve, but I don't have any
weaknesses!" Coming from a man who left the security of
the family home to earn his living in another country aged
just 15, establishing himself as his country's number one in
the process; it's hard to argue.