Shay Given deserves his place in fantasy Irish XI
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Shay Given deserves his place in fantasy Irish XI

HE GREW up worshipping the man he would eventually eclipse and played alongside seven players who could make a legitimate case for inclusion in the greatest Irish XI of all time.

Twice he was voted the PFA's goalkeeper of the year and for 18 years he has earned big money in the biggest league in the world.  Last Saturday, in his 40th year, Shay Given aimed to collect the first major medal of his career from the field of play.

He failed. At 39, it's highly unlikely he'll get another chance - Saturday, after all, was the first time Aston Villa have appeared in the FA Cup final in 15 years, and just the second time they have been there in 58 seasons. They did make it to the 2010 League Cup final, but have not won a major trophy since 1996.

So while there is a possibility they will be back to Wembley next year, it's a long-shot. This, you suspect, was Given's final day in the sun.

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He'll have regrets. When he reflects on a career that saw him stay loyal to Newcastle United during his prime, at a time when Manchester United and Arsenal employed evidently inferior goalkeepers, he retires with just one major medal in his collection, the 2011 FA Cup.

That victory comes with an asterisk applied to it. Given sat on the bench that day, when Manchester City defeated Stoke City to win the FA Cup for a fifth time. More to the point, he stayed on the bench all that season, failing to feature in any of City's league or FA Cup games.

The striking element to all of this is that Given, in the eyes of most observers, is the greatest goalkeeper in Irish football history. The friends and family of Packie Bonner may dispute this suggestion - and sentimentalists recalling the events of Stuttgart 28 years ago, and Genoa in Italia 90 - could argue the toss.

Yet the debate that rages for the right to be called Ireland's number one pales into insignificance when it comes to choosing the other 10 in the greatest Irish X1 of all time.

Try choosing two full-backs from the following - Tony Dunne, winner of two league titles, the FA Cup and European Cup for Manchester United; Johnny Carey - the first Irishman to captain a FA Cup and League winning side; Steve Staunton, winner of four major medals in his career; Denis Irwin, winner of 15 trophies during his time.

Bear in mind we have also considered, but excluded John O'Shea (11 major medals), Joe Kinnear, Noel Cantwell (another FA Cup winning captain), Gary Kelly, Chris Hughton, and Stephen Carr from this fictional side.

Paul McGrath (winner of the FA Cup and League Cup) would be the most popular choice for inclusion at centre-half alongside Mark Lawrenson, who retired with five league titles, one FA Cup, three League Cups and the European Cup on his CV - with a respectful nod being delivered in David O'Leary's direction.

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Whatever about the possibilities of disagreement occurring in the defensive positions, midfield is virtually impossible to decide upon.

As it is, a combination of Steve Heighway (winner of four league titles, two European Cups, two UEFA Cups, the FA Cup and League Cup), Damien Duff (two league titles, two League Cups) is a personal preference for inclusion on the wing, supplemented by the all-singing, all-dancing combination of John Giles and Roy Keane (21 honours between them) in midfield.

The inclusion of this quartet, of course, means there is no place for Liam Brady in this fantasy XI. People have been jailed for less.

Plus there is no room for Ray Houghton, the hero of Stuttgart and Giants Stadium and a two-time league title winner with Liverpool, Ronnie Whelan - another FA Cup winning captain, and winner of a colossal 14 major trophies with Liverpool.

Up front we have opted for Liam Whelan, the Busby Babe, who won back-to-back titles with Manchester United and scored 33 goals in the 1956/57 season before tragedy struck a year later.

Good enough to keep Bobby Charlton out of Matt Busby's team for a prolonged spell, he is, by extension, could enough to be included ahead of Frank Stapleton and John Aldridge in this side, albeit as a modern-day number 10, included to supplement the midfield and score goals from deep.

Robbie Keane, never the most popular player, but one who has scored more international goals than Stapleton, Aldridge and Don Givens combined, gains entry to the Hall of Fame as our centre-forward.

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In this context, Given cuts a lonely figure. Yes, there is that 2011 medal - and Roy Keane can rightly consider himself a Champions League winner even though he was suspended for the 1999 final.

The difference is that Keane played right through that competition and was the driving force behind their come-from-behind victory in Turin.

Given, by contrast, was an afterthought in Roberto Mancini's mind when they won at Wembley four years ago. He was there, but he wasn't really there.

Saturday was different. Selected to start his second final, 17 years after he appeared in his first, he had his chance to join the greats, to get the decorative emblem his brilliant career deserved. And it passed.

Soon, it'll end in its entirety for Given, too. He's had a fine innings and this Cup run, and return to the Irish international side, provides him with the Indian Summer his talents deserve.

He'll be remembered as a brilliant player, the best goalkeeper Ireland has ever had. But on the greatest Irish team of all-time, the brackets beside his name are empty. Lesser men have won a whole lot more.

Garry Doyle’s greatest Irish XI of all time

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4-4-1-1 formation

Goalkeeper - Shay Given (1 FA Cup as unused sub) Right Back - Johnny Carey (League title, FA Cup) Centre back - Paul McGrath (FA Cup, League Cup) Centre back - Mark Lawrenson (5 League titles, 3 League Cups, FA Cup, European Cup) Left back - Denis Irwin (7 League titles, 3 FA Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Champions League, 1 Cup Winners Cup, 1 Inter-Continental Cup, 1 Super Cup); Right wing - Damien Duff (2 League titles, 2 FA Cups) Centre midfield - John Giles (2 League titles, 2 FA Cups, 2 Fairs Cup, League Cup) Centre midfield - Roy Keane ( 7 League titles, 4 FA Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Intercontinental Cup, 1 Scottish Premier League, 1 Scottish League Cup) Left wing  - Steve Heighway (4 League titles, FA Cup, League Cup, 2 European Cups, 2 UEFA Cups, 1 Super Cup) Split-striker - Liam Whelan (2 League titles) Striker - Robbie Keane (1 League Cup, 3 MLS Cups)

* We have not considered the Charity Shield nor a second-tier title as major trophies, although Given's victory with Sunderland in the 1995-96 First Division could arguably be considered a greater achievement than Robbie Keane's victory in the MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy

** Apologies to Liam Brady, Tony Dunne, David O'Leary, Chris Hughton, John O'Shea, Steve Staunton, Noel Cantwell, Packie Bonner, Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan, Frank Stapleton, and John Aldridge who all had distinguished careers.