Derby days have given Shay a new lease of life – Michael Walker talks to Shay Given:

For­mer Repub­lic of Ire­land goal­keeper is rel­ish­ing his coach­ing role with Lam­pard’s Derby County

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

He strides in smil­ing wear­ing his new work gear: an all-black kit, a lit­tle white ram above his heart, ‘SG’ ini­tials along­side. He is sweaty af­ter a swift gym ses­sion fol­low­ing train­ing. He swigs wa­ter, wolfs down some chopped fruit and starts chat­ting. And chat­ting. Shay Given looks and sounds one happy man.

This is his new world: Derby County’s train­ing ground on the foggy hills on the edge of town. It is his tenth club, if you count loans, more than 25 years since the 16-year-old Given stepped onto the Stran­raer ferry with his fa­ther Séa­mus bound for Celtic. Then a boy, hop­ing; now a man, coach­ing.

Celtic and Derby County both rep­re­sent first-time ex­pe­ri­ences for Given. He was thrilled and ner­vous then, he is thrilled and “hon­oured” now.

What Given did not know was that in Septem­ber 2016, when he walked off the pitch at Sel­hurst Park af­ter Stoke City’s 4-1 de­feat by Crys­tal Palace, he had played his last game. There was no chore­ographed farewell, just a place back in the squad, a seat on the Stoke bench as Lee Grant took his spot.

Then re­lease, then re­tire­ment. 800 games. Over.

“I wasn’t think­ing it was my last game, no,” Given says of Sel­hurst Park. “It didn’t re­ally dawn on me – even when I left Stoke I thought I might go some­where else. I had a few op­tions at the begin­ning of last sea­son but it was at clubs strug­gling in the Cham­pi­onship or in League One. I didn’t want to go some­where where they’d lost by five last week but it might be three next week cos I’ve gone in. I didn’t sort-of want to go out that way, you know?

“I mean, I know I lost at Palace, but it was in the Premier League. I suppose I didn’t want to go places and have peo­ple talk­ing neg­a­tively about me: ‘How’d he play in the Premier League?’ That didn’t ex­cite me.”

So he hit the TV stu­dios and ra­dio sta­tions, qui­etly did some coach­ing at Mac­cles­field Town. Given rel­ished it. He had got him­self qual­i­fied with A and B coach­ing li­cences. He also liked the free­dom of not play­ing, time with fam­ily and a long hol­i­day in Spain last June. “And then I just got a text from Frank out of the blue.”

Frank is Frank Lam­pard – or Frank Lam­pard Jnr to those of a cer­tain age and West Ham sen­si­bil­ity.

“It was June-ish,” Given says. “I got the text: ‘It’s Frank here, give me a call.’ I thought he’d the wrong num­ber. No, I knew he’d got the Derby job so it didn’t take a rocket sci­en­tist to work out what he wanted to talk about.”

Given knew Lam­pard as an op­po­nent, as a com­peti­tor, but not as a col­league or so­cially. A few con­ver­sa­tions later, that changed. “I’m pretty hon­oured,” he says.

“I feel priv­i­leged to be here, to be part of it. Think of all the keep­ers and coaches Frank’s worked with. It was a bit out of the blue, but he was with Shearer at the World Cup and Al put in a good word for me. Oth­ers did, those he knows, Harry Red­knapp I think.

“There’d have been a queue at the door to get this job. We spoke a few times. I was ex­cited. He’s a world-renowned foot­ball per­son and he wants to be the best as a man­ager. To be part of that from day one felt ex­cit­ing. Some­one said I should maybe wait a year, do some more me­dia. But Frank wanted new peo­ple in, fresh ideas, and it all sounded ex­cit­ing. And of course Derby is a great club to get a chance at. It’s all set up for the Premier League – the sta­dium, the train­ing ground, the fa­cil­i­ties. It’s a great job – for all of us.”

Plan­ning

The en­thu­si­asm Given ad­mired in his first real goal­keep­ing coach, Terry Gen­noe at Black­burn Rovers back in the mid-1990s, is ob­vi­ous in him­self. He thinks about Gen­noe ev­ery day, writ­ing ‘TG’ at the top of his sheet plan­ning the day’s ses­sion. TG for Train­ing Ground now, plus a pitch num­ber on Derby’s green acres.

He is up at 6.30am for the 90-minute drive, then out with the num­ber one, Scott Car­son, and two, some­times three other goal­keep­ers. Given has thrown him­self into it, though not lit­er­ally.

“I’m not do­ing any div­ing, no,” he says. “I did in the first few days be­cause I was go­ing to play in the game up at Celtic. I haven’t done any­thing since. I say to the lads: ‘Let’s try to cover ev­ery­thing that we’ll come across on a Satur­day. When Satur­day comes, you should be ready.’

“Ob­vi­ously, the Cham­pi­onship is Tues­day-Satur­day-Tues­day, so it’s tough time-wise. Scott Car­son is the first choice so he can be on a re­cov­ery day, but I’ll be out there with the other lads. It’s a good group.

“I didn’t know Scott per­son­ally, but I’d played against him and knew what he’d done as a goal­keeper. He’s fan­tas­tic to work with.”

Car­son is 33 with Liver­pool, West Brom and Eng­land ex­pe­ri­ence. Can Given teach him?

“I don’t think you ever stop learn­ing. I’m al­ways open to new ideas, try to im­prove. When you think you’ve stopped learn­ing, you’re go­ing back­wards. To be fair to Scot­tie, his at­ti­tude is so pro­fes­sional, very keen, even on re­cov­ery days he wants to be out there. I’ve to hold him back a bit.”

The goal­keeper’s game has changed dra­mat­i­cally since Given be­gan. At Lif­ford Celtic in Done­gal, he could pick the ball up. Then came the back-pass law and the six-sec­ond rule. To­day, thanks to Pep Guardi­ola, the goal­keeper is no longer re­garded as the 1 in 10+1.

“I know ev­ery­one goes back to Man City and Eder­son,” Given says, “but Pep Guardi­ola did come in and say he wanted Eder­son as his keeper be­cause this is how he wants City to play. A lot of his team stuff is based around the goal­keeper.

“When City have the ball, Eder­son be­comes an 11th out­field player. Some­times Guardi­ola wants him to be closed down be­cause that cre­ates space for some­body else. That’s all part of the coach­ing, the man­ager work­ing with the goal­keeper. It’s key.”

This is the next phase in goal­keep­ing coach­ing: in­te­gra­tion. At Uefa Packie Bon­ner has in­tro­duced a new qual­i­fi­ca­tion and he has been to Derby to see his fel­low Done­gal man. Given re­turns to his talks with Lam­pard.

“Frank said: ‘I want you to be part of the whole lot, not to be just in a cor­ner with the keep­ers.’ I’m do­ing my goal­keep­ing A-Li­cence at the minute – it’s about be­ing part of the (coach­ing) group. Packie Bon­ner over­sees it for Uefa. I’m do­ing it in Belfast. He was over here a month ago.

“Packie spoke to me and the gaffer about be­ing in­te­grated, be­ing part of ideas. We’re in meet­ings ev­ery day as a group and it’s good for me that Frank is open to that. I’ve just started as a coach, I’m learn­ing. I said to Frank that I wanted to learn ev­ery­thing, not just the goal­keep­ing side.”

An ex­am­ple of Given’s in­te­gra­tion at Derby is that he is in­volved in cor­ner-kick plan­ning – de­fen­sive and at­tack­ing. This caused some pain last Satur­day when Derby, 2-0 up against Swansea, con­ceded from an 87th minute cor­ner.

As a coach, feel­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity, is 2-1 much less good than 2-0?

“Yeah, def­i­nitely. If we’d won 2-0, I’d have been a lot hap­pier. You say the three points is great, but at the same time, there’s a tinge of . . . we need to start keep­ing more clean sheets. We can’t score two goals ev­ery week.

“On av­er­age, I think it’s 20 clean sheets for pro­mo­tion – I’m not say­ing it guar­an­tees you pro­mo­tion. But we’ve kept three and it’s nearly half­way. De­cem­ber 26th is half­way. So we need to im­prove. These lit­tle things are red flags.

Given says that he was “never been wrapped up about clean sheets” as a player. Yet in part that was how he made his name.

Clean sheets

His full de­but as a pro­fes­sional came on loan from Black­burn at Swin­don Town. They trav­elled to Hull City in Au­gust 1995 and won 1-0. It was the first of four clean sheets in five.

His next loan was at Sun­der­land where his clean sheet record was 12 in 17.

His pro­file raised, Mick McCarthy called up the 19-year-old Given for his first cap in his de­but as Repub­lic of Ire­land man­ager.

“It’s gone full cir­cle, hasn’t it?” Given says of McCarthy’s re-ap­point­ment. “He got chased out if you re­mem­ber. I just hope he does well. I texted him on the day and wished him well, noth­ing ma­jor.

“The bot­tom line is qual­i­fi­ca­tion. The last year has been frus­trat­ing and Roy (Keane) and Martin (O’Neill) will know that – the re­sults have not been good enough.

“The draw has been good, could have been a lot worse, and I think there’s a nu­cleus of a good team there, I re­ally do. If you can get them to­gether, play­ing in the right way, I think we’ve got a chance.”

He is un­sure about the suc­ces­sion plan in­volv­ing McCarthy and Stephen Kenny, but he is open and again men­tions in­te­gra­tion.

“There should be co­he­sion, there should be a way of play­ing that ap­plies to the youth set-ups and the se­nior team, an FAI way. It seems each man­ager is dif­fer­ent. We need some in­te­gra­tion. If Mick and Stephen Kenny are plan­ning on work­ing to­gether I think that could be re­fresh­ing.

“Mick needs younger play­ers. It’s good about Michael Obafemi at Southamp­ton. I’m glad he wants to play for Ire­land.”

Given also thinks his for­mer As­ton Villa team-mate, Jack Gre­al­ish, would be worth an­other phone call: “He has said he wants to play for Eng­land but he hasn’t done it yet. If I was Mick, I’d be on the phone to Jack.

“Look at the play­ers Eng­land have in his po­si­tion – Dele Alli, James Mad­di­son at Le­ices­ter. Jack’s a real tal­ent. He might be think­ing about it – he could have had 25 caps for Ire­land by now.” Given is think­ing like a man­ager, but also like a 42-year-old Ir­ish­man wor­ried about the state of soc­cer and sport­ing com­pe­ti­tion. “A few weeks ago, I was back for the week­end on the in­ter­na­tional break. Driv­ing from Belfast up to Done­gal, you see these GAA pitches and club­houses done up, ev­ery­thing’s so pro­fes­sional. The money goes into the grass­roots.

“Then there’s soc­cer pitches that are mud­heaps. Foot­ball needs in­vest­ment, and more than 10 grand a club.

“But it’s the rugby that’s fly­ing. Ire­land’s just beat the All Blacks. Bril­liant for the coun­try. If you’re a young kid in Ire­land, these are your he­roes.

“They could win a World Cup and with all due re­spect, I don’t think we’ll win one at foot­ball – there’s an ar­gu­ment for a united Ire­land team be­cause of the rugby suc­cess. I wouldn’t ob­ject to that. It’s a mine­field, though.”

Hav­ing earned his coach­ing badges in Belfast with the IFA, Given has cross-border aware­ness. His praise is for the north­ern as­so­ci­a­tion.

“The black and white of it is that me and Kevin Kil­bane wanted to do these A and B Li­cences and we spoke to some­one at the FAI. And, lit­er­ally, they never called back.

“We spoke to Nigel Best (IFA) up in Belfast and they could not have done enough for us. At the time me and Kev were the two most capped Ir­ish play­ers in his­tory and the FAI didn’t even phone back, where Nigel was to­tally ac­com­mo­dat­ing, no anti-Repub­lic of Ire­land thing. The IFA said: ‘We’d love to have you, please do come.’”

The de­sire, and the qual­i­fi­ca­tions, take Given back to where he sits to­day, at Derby County. Here he pon­ders train­ing ses­sions, cor­ner kicks, coach­ing - and pro­mo­tion.

“The thing is to get pro­mo­tion, I don’t care how. There’s no top-10 tar­get, no top-half, we need to get pro­mo­tion, au­to­matic or through the play­offs. It’s not a to­tal fail­ure if we don’t, and we have had to change a lot – per­son­nel, style of play. I think Ful­ham were 11th go­ing into Christ­mas last sea­son and came sec­ond. We are there­abouts.”

Derby are sev­enth in a Cham­pi­onship top-seven sep­a­rated by six points. They are at Wi­gan Ath­letic to­day, the next home game be­ing against deadly ri­vals Not­ting­ham For­est.

Given gets up and makes for the coaches’ room. He is beam­ing.

“It’s just nice to be in­volved. You know what I’m like, I love the craic, the buzz around the lads. When you’re a coach, it’s tough if you lose, it is quite drain­ing. But when you win, it’s mad, it’s mag­ni­fied. You feel it for the whole group.”

He (McCarthy) got chased out if you re­mem­ber. I just hope he does well. I think there’s a nu­cleus of a good team there, I re­ally do. If you can get them to­gether, play­ing in the right way, I think we’ve got a chance” They could win a World Cup and with all due re­spect, I don’t think we’ll win one at foot­ball – there’s an ar­gu­ment for a united Ire­land team be­cause of the rugby suc­cess. I wouldn’t ob­ject to that. It’s a mine­field, though”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAN MUL­LAN/GETTY IM­AGES

Derby County head goal­keep­ing coach Shay Given: “Driv­ing from Belfast up to Done­gal, you see these GAA pitches and club­houses done up, ev­ery­thing’s so pro­fes­sional. The money goes into the grass­roots. Then there’s soc­cer pitches that are mud­heaps. Foot­ball needs in­vest­ment, and more than 10 grand a club. Com­pe­ti­tion

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