x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Centurion Given going strong

It will be a poignant moment for Shay Given when he steps out at Croke Park, Dublin, tonight.

Shay Given celebrates Ireland's opening goal in the 2-2 draw against Italy at home on Saturday.
Shay Given celebrates Ireland's opening goal in the 2-2 draw against Italy at home on Saturday.

It will be a poignant moment for Shay Given when he steps out at Croke Park, Dublin, tonight. A 100th cap will be bestowed on someone who dreamed of just one when he was growing up in the Irish town of Lifford. With his children, Shayne and Sienna, watching their first Ireland international, Given will be a proud man, yet he longs for a medal to go with the memories.

Given's heroes were Packie Bonner, who kept goal in his country's historic first two World Cup finals appearances in 1990 and 1994, and the great Dane Peter Schmeichel. Both were evidence of the theory that the mind and body reactions of goalkeepers do not diminish with age. Schmeichel who had a trophy-filled career at Manchester United, retired at the age of 39, Bonner was a year younger. At 33, Given hopes to emulate their longevity and the success of another United veteran, Edwin van der Sar, who is still going strong at 38.

"Schmeichel is one of the best keepers of all time in my opinion; he had such a presence," said the Manchester City player. "He went on until he was 39 and hopefully my body will hang on until then. I grew up watching him and Packie Bonner. Credit to these guys for going on so long. I'd love to do the same and especially win some trophies at this stage of my career. "Of course you never know with injuries and form, but seeing van der Sar winning the big trophies like a Champions League at his age definitely gives you hope. I would love to do what he has and why not? I do feel the best years of my career are still ahead of me."

The Premier League has several goalkeepers who are defying father time. Now 39, Portsmouth's David James is the England No1 while the American Brad Friedel, 38, is still keeping strikers at bay for Aston Villa. Given has taken note of their tips to surviving in what is widely regarded as the world's toughest league. Kevin Kilbane, 32, will be a fellow Ireland centurion tonight, but Given is the most likely to exceed Steve Staunton's record 102 caps. The Irish coach Giova-nni Trapattoni feels he can match Dino Zoff, who won the World Cup with Italy at the age of 40.

"The older you get, the more experience you get and you know how your body reacts in games, and how to push yourself in training to be fit for games," said Given. "But you have to look after yourself away from the pitch too and be willing to try new ideas. "I read a couple of articles where Friedel and James talked about doing yoga and how it helped them become stronger and more flexible. So I started taking that up. It's been good, especially with the flexibility and strength. Ryan Giggs does yoga too and one per cent here and one per cent there does help make you a better player."

That one per cent could make the difference between Given and Ireland reaching next year's World Cup finals. They have secured a play-off spot, but with Fifa using a seeding format, Trapattoni's team could face France, Russia or Portugal. Given retains hope, though, ranking two win-or-bust contests in 2002 among the highlights of his century of appearances. "We played Holland [in the group stage] and knocked them out of the World Cup," said Given, who made his debut in a 2-0 defeat to Russia in 1996. "Then there were the play-offs against Iran, which were two special games."

Those results sent Ireland to the finals in Japan and South Korea - the highlight of Given's career. "We were unlucky not to beat Spain [in the second round] and lost out in the lottery of penalties. It's a bit heartbreaking, but we know what it's like to play in the World Cup finals and we'd love to get back there." akhan@thenational.ae