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'We're not going to go around two-footing one of them so you'll get a game'

Competition for the Ireland number one jersey is fierce — just not that fierce, says Shay Given.

Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

SHAY GIVEN ISN’T willing to sit back and play second fiddle at Ireland training this week.

The Donegal stopper hasn’t started a competitive game for Ireland since Euro 2012 but he has his sights set on regaining the number one jersey against Poland.

Given has been starved of club football this season and played just five cup games for Aston Villa — one in the league cup and four in their run to the FA Cup semis, where they will play either Liverpool or Blackburn.

His only Irish appearances came in the friendlies against Oman and the USA last autumn but the 38-year-old still believes that he can dislodge David Forde for the crunch Euro 2016 qualifier.

The competition for places is even more intense this week with Keiren Westwood and Darren Randolph also in the 29-man panel trying to catch Martin O’Neill’s eye. Once the manager has picked his man, Given says, it’s all for one and one for all.

“I think the goalkeepers in general, David and Westwood and Randolph, we’re all a tight group together and whoever he picks, we’ll support them like I’ve said before.

We’re not going to go around two-footing one of them so you’ll get a game or anything like that!

“You do wish them well, whoever plays, but at the same time with your personal pride and your professionalism, you want to play in the game.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“It’s such a huge game as well. I’d love to play on Sunday but I don’t pick the team. I’ve just got to work hard in training. I’ve been playing well at Aston Villa as well when given the chance and hopefully I might get the nod Sunday but if not then I’ll support whoever he picks.”

While Brad Guzan has kept his stranglehold on the number one jersey at Villa, Given’s role as the ‘cup keeper’ helped Tim Sherwood’s men to their first FA Cup semi in five years.

“The more games you play, the better, but to be fair the games I’ve played in I’ve done well. I’ve felt pretty sharp and made big saves in all the games I’ve been involved in as well. We’re in the semi-final of the FA Cup as well which is great for the club and the supporters.”

Defeat in Scotland last November was a major setback after Ireland’s unbeaten start in qualifying, upping the ante ahead of Poland’s visit this weekend.

Adam Nawalka’s side have set the pace as the only unbeaten side in Group D and will look to stretch their advantage by taking three points home from Dublin.

“It’s not must-win yet but it’s must not lose, I suppose,” Given said.

“We’ve all been here before in this situation in the qualifying campaign. We know how important it is, it is a huge game of course. Ideally you want to win your home games and take some points on the road as well.

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David Forde and Shay Given Given is vying for Forde's number one jersey this week. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“We need the Aviva to be really rocking. I think it’s great that it’s a Sunday night as well. The lights and the atmosphere will be extra special and we really need the fans to be right behind us from the first minute.”

If Ireland do qualify for next summer’s tournament in France, one player who might be in the mix is Given’s young Villa team-mate Jack Grealish.

The 19-year-old was named U21 International Player of the Year at the 3/FAI Awards on Sunday night and hinted that he will be ready to end his international ‘break’ later this year.

“I’ve never heard of that before — he’s turned into a student taking a gap year,” Given joked.

“It’s great that he’s decided that he’s had a nice rest and he’s going to come back in. It was nice to see his family there as well, his gran from Kerry.

Hopefully even being there last night, coming across and seeing the support the nation has for him will make him make the right decision.

“He’s a class player. He obviously wants to play more time for Villa as well. He’s still very young and Tim Sherwood is letting him in gently into the team.

“I think he’s got the right manager that will get the best out of him and hopefully he has a big future ahead of him.”

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Niall Kelly

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