Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Home comforts for Republic and Given

Condering the events of the past few years, it's hard to countenance the notion that turning up for Irish duty constitutes a trip into a sane environment.

When your day job is playing for Newcastle United, however, then the argument is thoroughly understandable. After 11 years at St James' Park, Shay Given could be forgiven for not knowing what normal is.



Last night, he once again found himself on Irish shores talking about the latest goings on back at the circus although, unlike his latest club manager, he got through his press briefing without hurling an array of expletives or declaring anyone present to be what exponents of Cockney rhyming slang would possibly term as a Stephen Hunt.



Just as he starts to speak about Joe 'f******' Kinnear and his infamous rant at the North East media his phone rings.



"That's him on the phone," he laughs, before politely batting whoever the caller was away. "Ah, obviously he was disappointed and angry with some of the stuff that was written to him and he needed to a get few things off his chest and he certainly did that."



As someone who has stayed loyal to Newcastle through thick and thin, the Donegal man is perfectly entitled to be effing and blinding himself. Not for the first time, recent events have led him to question his future at the club. Not for the first time, his gut instinct is that he should not decamp.



"I've been there a long time now and I'd class it as my home," he replies, when asked if sticking around has been a bad call. "It's been 11 and a half years so it's a big part of my life and the club is.



"At times like this it's difficult because I've been there so long so I feel a little bit how the fans feel, it's been so frustrating.



"I've been through rough times at Newcastle but this time it seems it really is with the club up for sale, and the management up in the air, it just seems like the ultimate turmoil sort of thing.



"As a player it is easy to turn around and say I want to leave, I want to do this or that but I'd love to see Newcastle really turn the corner and hopefully this is as low as it's going to get and we will turn the corner, and things will pick up, the club will get sold and the right people will come in to invest in the team.



"I think someone was quoted as saying things can turn bad quickly but they can turn really good quickly as well at Newcastle, it can go on a bit of a rollercoaster and hopefully that will the case and I'd like to be part of that, I'd like to win some things at Newcastle."



You have to admire his optimism, if not quite believing in it.



Certainly, while the off the field mess has been a negative, the positive for Given this year is that he has come through a number of games without injury, suggesting that the persistent problems emanating from the horror clash with Marlon Harewood two years ago have been healed by the last in a series of operations this summer.



Of course, that Upton Park nightmare ruled him out of the trip to Cyprus a couple of weeks later and, well, we all know what happened there. He was involved at Croke Park, however, last year when they came away with a draw that spelled the end of Steve Staunton. This time, ahead of Wednesday's World Cup qualifier, he senses the mood is considerably better under new management.



"The last time we played them there was probably a lot of negativity around the place, with the fans and you guys as well, and we just hope that's banished now," he says.



"I suppose the bad atmosphere was because our results weren't very good and we weren't playing well but that's gone, that's history. We really need everyone now; the players and the fans, all to be in this together.



"Obviously a new manager has come and with his experience and the amount of stuff he's done in the game you have ultimate respect for him as soon as he walks in that door."



Four points from Georgia and Montenegro was a good start and, with three home games next on the rota, Given feels there is a window to get points on the board and establish a strong position.



Stability is the key. Having operated with a variety of defences in front of him, he enjoyed the organised nature of last month but in the absence of Steve Finnan another switch beckons. The hope is that the manager's emphasis on shape will compensate for the loss, with Paul McShane highly likely to get the nod.



"He's very adamant on shape and that's why we're a wee bit late, we were working on it now," he smiles.



"He drills into us what he wants and how he wants us to play when we have the ball and when we don't have it.



"It's important that that's the case, it's needed at every level. Sometimes it can be a little bit boring walking through things and doing shape and shadow play in practice matches but you really do benefit from it as a team."



"Yes, it's important to have a settled back four. I think if you look back at the great Arsenal team, their back four never changed and ideally you'd love the back four and maybe the keeper to get that understanding together but it's not always the case obviously because of injuries and suspensions that could kick in later in the campaign."



Yet as the nightmare in Nicosia proved, the main player who needs to avoid such setbacks is Given. He may have the physical scars, but Ireland have the mental ones from what unfolded in his absence. At Croke Park this week provides the perfect opportunity for eradication.

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