Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPASTIMES -

SHAY GIVEN is, to fol­low­ers of the English Premier League, one of the world’s elite goal­keep­ers. This sen­ti­ment is, how­ever, largely exclusive to those in­side the bor­ders of Bri­tain and Ire­land.

It is a con­se­quence of ex­po­sure rather than en­deav­our. For while the 33-year-old’s ra­zor-sharp re­flexes and res­o­lute com­mand of his area have pro­voked his reg­u­lar spec­ta­tors into jux­ta­pos­ing him with the game’s other hal­lowed No 1s, the Repub­lic of Ire­land in­ter­na­tional has not show­cased his tal­ent in a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment or the Cham­pi­ons League since 2002 and 2003 re­spec­tively.

Given is de­ter­mined to ar­rest th­ese statis­tics, and he has am­ple rea­son for op­ti­mism.

In­deed, Manch­ester City’s threat to break the mo­nop­oly Manch­ester United, Liver­pool, Chelsea and Arse­nal have held on the Premier League’s top­four places is be­ing de­liv­ered in an aug­ment­ing, clan­gor­ous tone, while Gio­vanni Tra­p­at­toni’s Boys in Green are just one step – al­beit a steep one built from French con­crete – away from reach­ing the 2010 World Cup South Africa.

Ahead of his coun­try’s im­mi­nent play-off, spoke to the for­mer Black­burn Rovers and New­cas­tle United player about the mer­its of Les Bleus, Repub­lic of Ire­land’s chances of qual­i­fi­ca­tion, life at East­lands and City’s as­pi­ra­tions for the fu­ture.

Shay, how does it feel to be part of a Manch­ester City squad with such am­bi­tion?

It’s a great pe­riod to be at Manch­ester City. There’s such ex­cite­ment in the dress­ing room. There’s a real feel­ing of op­ti­mism and we be­lieve we’re go­ing places. It’s been a great ad­ven­ture for me and I couldn’t be hap­pier.

City have had some leg­endary goal­keep­ers such as Frank Swift, Bert Traut­mann and Joe Cor­ri­gan. How does it feel to be a suc- ces­sor to such greats?

Manch­ester City are a great club with a great his­tory. It’s true they’ve had some ex­cel­lent keep­ers, so it’s re­ally spe­cial to be fol­low­ing in their foot­steps. It’s a hard act to fol­low but it’s cer­tainly an hon­our.

What are the club’s tar­gets this sea­son?

We’d like to win some­thing. If it doesn’t hap­pen this sea­son, it’ll hap­pen next. But hope­fully we’ll be able to do it (this cam­paign). We’re in the Car­ling Cup quar­ter-fi­nals, we’ve got the FA Cup to come and we’re up near the top of the league.

Do you en­vis­age fin­ish­ing your ca­reer at City, or would you like to play for any other clubs be­fore you hang up your gloves?

I’d love to fin­ish my ca­reer here. I haven’t been here long, but I al­ready feel at home and love the club. I grew up a Celtic sup­porter and they have a big place in my heart, but I re­ally hope I can fin­ish my ca­reer here. You can never say never, but I’d like to think I will.

Where do you feel you rank among the world’s best goal­keep­ers? Who do you con­sider the best player in your po­si­tion?

It’s not for me to say where I rank. I just work hard and al­ways try to im­prove. In ter ms of the world’s best keep­ers, I think it’s very hard to pick just one. I think there are a few on about the same level. Casil­las, Buf­fon, Van der Sar, Cech... I’d say they’re the cream of the crop.

Mov­ing on to the Repub­lic of Ire­land, what did you make of your qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign?

I think sec­ond place was a good achieve­ment. We were in a group with the world cham­pi­ons and a good Bul­garia side. We went un­beaten and gave the Ital­ians two very close games that we could have won – we showed we can com­pete against the world’s best.

How did you feel when you drew France?

We knew it was go­ing to be tough, no mat­ter who we drew. Some peo­ple would say that France are the best team in the play-offs, but we’re just fo­cus­ing on play­ing our own game.

Do you think the ab­sence of Franck Ribery will be a big ad­van­tage?

Yeah, he’s a top player. But his re­place­ment will be an­other qual­ity player – France sim­ply don’t have weak play­ers.

What do you think are France’s strengths, and who do you con­sider their best play­ers?

Where do I start! They’ve got so many fan­tas­tic play­ers. I think their at­tack is es­pe­cially strong. Play­ers like (Thierry) Henry, (Karim) Ben­zema and (Ni­co­las) Anelka are ca­pa­ble of winning any game.

But we’re con­fi­dent. They strug­gled in qual­i­fy­ing. I think ev­ery­body ex­pected them to win the group but they only fin­ished as run­ners-up.

What’s it like work­ing un­der Gio­vanni Tra­p­at­toni?

It’s a priv­i­lege. He’s a great man- ager with so much ex­pe­ri­ence. He com­mands re­spect ev­ery­where he goes.

What will the at­mos­phere be like at Croke Park for the first leg to­day? Do you think this will be a big ad­van­tage to the Ir­ish?

It’s go­ing to be a very spe­cial oc­ca­sion. It will be sold out and the at­mos­phere will be ab­so­lutely elec­tric, so I think this will work in our favour. The Ir­ish sup­port­ers are very, very pas­sion­ate and their sup­port will give us a big lift.

What will be the key to Repub­lic of Ire­land beat­ing France?

We’ve got to keep it tight in the first leg. I think it’s im­por­tant that we don’t con­cede. It won’t be easy against such qual­ity strik­ers, but our de­fend­ers are ca­pa­ble of stop­ping them.

I think it will be a tight game, so hope­fully we can take our chances. I ac­tu­ally think 0-0 would be a good re­sult for us.

You bril­liantly saved a penalty for Manch­ester City against Birm­ing­ham City re­cently. If the

EYE ON THE PRIZE: Shay Given of Ire­land in action dur­ing an in­ter­na­tional friendly be­tween Ire­land and Brazil at Croke Park last year.

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