Belfast Telegraph

Perturbed by armed guards but it remains business as usual for Republic of Ireland, says Shay Given

By Daniel McDonnell

When he realised armed guards would be accompaning the Ireland team on every journey in France, Shay Given understood that this major tournament experience would be a little different.

Players always try to isolate themselves from the circus that surrounds the camp, but the security threat in France is a serious business which they really cannot ignore.

"We have a few armed guards with us," said Given. "And I wouldn't want to mess with them. That's the first time I've had that at a tournament and they are travelling everywhere with us. I suppose we'll get used to it, but it does seem a bit weird.

He admits it has led to brief moments of panic.

"A couple of times we have stopped on the bus and a few gunmen have jumped out," he explained. "It can be a little bit nerve-wracking on that front. But that's only been because there was traffic in the end."

As a senior member of the group, Given appreciates the need for the precautionary stance taken by the authorities.

"It's a difficult time in France and it's the same for every team," he reasons. "We're well protected and you have to have faith in security and French services. They are trained in this. That's what they do. We play football and they keep people safe."

So, despite the slightly unusual sight of uniformed men with guns circling around the edge of the training ground, it's business as usual for Martin O'Neill and his group.

Given will not be around for the World Cup campaign, but he says the news of manager O'Neill agreeing a new deal to take him to the 2018 World Cup will have relevance for the younger fringe members of the group.

"The players who will be around for the World Cup know they have to impress to get in the squad in September," he said.

"It's important for Martin and Roy to have that continuity."

O'Neill's short-term focus is on ensuring everything runs smoothly in France and he was happier to elaborate on the settling in process.

"The hotel is terrific," he said. "The pitch has improved immensely. I can't ask for any better really.

"I think the players are thriving on it. In terms of the last 10 days, we were blessed with incredible weather in Cork while parts of Britain were under water and we're finding out that Paris was under water not so long ago, but we're arrived here and it's terrific - we couldn't have any complaints."

There was a lively aspect to training, especially a 10 v 10 match at the end which left the audience seeking potential clues in the line-ups.

With expected midfield starters Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy on opposite sides, it would be dangerous to read too much into it. Jon Walters was working alone on his Achilles problem and will be given every opportunity to demonstrate his well-being.

The stronger-looking team did have Shane Duffy next to John O'Shea in a back-four with Robbie Brady and Seamus Coleman. But if the public are guessing, it's effectively the same in the dressing-room.

Given, who is unlikely to feature barring an accident for Darren Randolph, said that the manager's approach leaves a window of hope open for all protagonists.

"He'll keep us guessing right up until kick-off," he smiled. "He's hard to read."

The path of the contract story has backed up that observation.

Belfast Telegraph