Shay Given on his surprise Ireland recall, Roy Keane's backing and the aftermath of Euro 2012
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Shay Given on his surprise Ireland recall, Roy Keane's backing and the aftermath of Euro 2012

STROLLING through the swinging doors that separate the lobby at Aston Villa’s training base, the commanding 6ft stature of Shay Given enters.

His lips are pursed but he breaks into a smile with a charming no-fuss introduction… a veteran.

His dark hair is swept neatly to one side. Not a strand out of place. He sports a pair of grey tracksuit bottoms, black T-shirt and matching trainers.

The Bodymoor Heath Training Ground is a hive of midday activity, tucked away just off a long and quiet winding country lane. Cars come and go as training ends but there are still a few players taking part in drills on the pitch behind the state-of-the art facility.

A one-on-one yoga class has just finished and former England international Kieran Richardson emerges as fellow countryman Joe Cole heads for the main staircase, towel in hand.

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On the first floor of the first team’s section of the building, the media room is set up for interviews, and a glass panel on the door of the canteen provides a glimpse into the players’ dietary temple. A sign indicates that breakfast is ending.

Given navigates through a corridor lined with academy classrooms until a vacancy appears.

“I feel good, I feel focused,” he says settling into the conversation.

Following an unexpected return to international football, the Donegal man has been named in Martin O’Neill’s squad for this month’s Euro 2016 qualifier ties against Gibraltar and Germany.

Two years into his international retirement he never thought he’d set foot onto a pitch in a green jersey again.

He made his final appearance for Ireland in Euro 2012 before confirming his departure to then manager Giovanni Trapattoni. This would have remained his last outing for the national team had he not received a phone call during the summer from O’Neill to discuss a potential return.

“He spoke to us on the phone and had a couple of meetings and basically on the Saturday before the Oman friendly he just named me in the squad,” he says. “It was surreal coming back in. It’s like making a second debut for Ireland. It was nice to pull on the jersey again.”

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Given is certain that his club working relationship with Roy Keane was a major factor in his return.

“It was down to Martin I think, Roy and Seamus the goalkeeping coach, as well, so they must have felt that I could offer something to the group, and asked me do I want to come back? Obviously I was happy to do that.”

It might sound surprising given that, in the wake of Euro 2012, the Cork man criticised the selection of several players on the basis of their reputation, including Shay, suggesting that certain individuals were more focused on earning caps than on the team’s collective performance.

How has this impacted on the pair’s working relationship?

He laughs: “Roy’s said lots of stuff in the past to different people and the thing is when he speaks he’s such a big character and he makes the headlines whenever he says something, especially in Ireland off course. It’s just his opinion. It doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong.

“People sometimes take it literally that whatever he says is gospel so I just take it with a pinch of salt and get on with it. He seems to give people the opinion that he’s hotheaded and stuff but his older years have calmed him down a little bit. He’s very upbeat and good to have around the place.”

If wearing the Ireland jersey ignites so much national pride then why did he leave his international days scattered in the mist of Euro 2012?

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His back straightens and arms fold as he confesses that he needed to take time out from the pressures of international football to deal with personal issues off the pitch.

“I had some personal problems, lots of things add up to be honest. You know the football, I was 36 and wanted to focus on club football and had some issues off the pitch on a personal level as well so all these things come into consideration off course.

“We’re no different to anyone, footballers, sometimes you read reports that we’re supposed to be superhuman but we’ve all got personal problems and day-to-day life issues that everyone has to deal with and we’re not exempt to them either, that’s a part and parcel of life.”

Yet through this optimism endures.

“I felt as I said at the time it was the right decision. People say ‘Oh do you regret coming back and all that?’ I don’t regret coming back, I'd probably regret more if I hadn’t have given it another chance and in 10 years’ time think ‘Oh maybe I should have’. You probably hear this all the time but you’re a long time retired and you’ve a long time to spew over the rest of your life really so I felt why not give it another chance.”

Lining out for Ireland at home against Oman in early September was an occasion of sorts despite being substituted at half-time.

“If I’m playing one game or no games and feel as if I’ve contributed to the squad then hopefully — because I’m a fan as much as anyone else and the most important thing is the country gets back to the major championships. That’s more important than me personally.”

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Ireland’s next fixtures of the Euro 2016 campaign are against Gibraltar at home on Saturday, October 11 and away to world champions Germany three days later.

Competing for selection against David Forde and Keiren Westwood, he is under no illusion of the challenge.

“If I don’t play in the next few games either then it’s not my decision. All I can do is turn up and be professional and focused and work hard in training and hopefully do enough to impress the manager or not as the case may be.

“I’m not going to go round sulking and saying that I should be playing. I mean I’m very much behind Fordey last time he played and I’ll do the same in the next couple of games as well.”

Being sidelined but still burning with ambition can’t be easy for a player who enjoyed 12 colourful years manning Newcastle’s goal line, most notably helping the club secure victory under Kenny Dalglish over Louis Van Gaal’s Barcelona in the Champions League in 1997, to watch the highs and lows of his current club from the bench.

“It’s tough, obviously you want to play each game but at the same time things can happen really quickly, an injury or suspension and you’re on the pitch,” he explains.

“The key thing at this stage is to keep your focus and train like you’re going to play, because you just have to be ready for that opportunity, and if it comes along then you’ve got to grab it with both hands.”

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Leaning back on his chair, he looks on intently, as he considers whether reclaiming the position of Villa’s number one stopper is also a realistic prospect because at eight years his junior, USA international Brad Guzan is in fine form — a similar situation to the one he now finds himself in with Ireland.

“You can’t see into the future what will happen,” he says philosophically.