Sport

Shay’s years of hurt may come to an end in FA Cup final

SportBy Kevin Palmer
Shay Given is desperate to win with Villa
Shay Given is desperate to win with Villa

The FA Cup has provided Shay Given with some of the most agonising moments of his enduring career – yet the oldest cup competition of them all is dangling a tantalising prize in front of Ireland’s greatest goalkeeper once again.

As a starry-eyed shot-stopper, Given formed his footballing dreams back in Donegal during the 1980s, dreaming of plotting a route to Wembley and lifting that most famous of silver sporting cups and now, at long last, that fantasy may become reality.

It is something of a tragedy that the pursuit of Champions League riches have replaced the push for genuine success in this game, yet Given remembers the days when the FA Cup was the prize any player worthy of exalted status needed on his record – and now he has been given one, surely final chance to be a Wembley winner.

So when Given takes to the field for his second FA Cup final against Arsenal – some 17 years after his previous clash with the Gunners in this fixture – he will appreciate the enormity of the opportunity in front of him. Opportunities like this do not come knocking very often for 39-year-olds, as he knows only too well.

Arsenal’s 1998 double winners ended his first big shot at FA Cup final glory, as goals from Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka beat his Newcastle team in the final – and there was even more agony to follow.

He admits he has not overcome the disappointment of Newcastle boss Ruud Gullit dropping him from his team for the 1999 FA Cup final against Manchester United a year later, with the savagely cruel act not even being delivered with an explanation from its executor.

Given has an FA Cup winners’ medal from his role as a bench-warmer in Manchester City’s 2011 triumph at Wembley, but he admits he did not feel like a winner as he played a role as a high-profile viewer in a cup run he was never a part of.

So if the Republic of Ireland’s most capped keeper and his Villa side defy the odds and triumph against Arsene Wenger’s FA Cup holders next weekend, he will see it as the first major trophy of a career that started two decades ago.

“I’d love to win a trophy and, let’s be honest, I have waited long enough,” begins Given with a smile. “Also, it’s been a while since Villa have won anything and it would be something special to do it at a club like this. You’d be making history and that would make it even more enjoyable.

“Do I consider that I won the FA Cup with Man City in 2011? I know I was given a medal, but I don’t know where that medal is and the whole occasion didn’t mean too much to me.

“I suppose that day with Man City was a happy one and I celebrated with the players after the game, of course I did, but my other experiences in the FA Cup have been disappointing.

“Losing to Arsenal with Newcastle in 1998 and then being dropped from the team in 1999 was pretty horrible. Gullit didn’t even tell me he was dropping me and got the goalkeeping coach to do it – that was pretty upsetting.

“Hopefully my luck in the FA Cup is about to change and, if I’m being honest, I probably didn’t believe I had another chance to win this competition because I have not been playing as much as I would have liked.

“You don’t doubt yourself when you are not playing regularly, but there is a feeling that you want to prove yourself again when chances like this come along. Hopefully, I’ve shown with my performances in the FA Cup this season that I still have something to offer.”

He’s seen so much in his career and, while his 128 Republic of Ireland caps are a testament to his legacy, there is a feeling that his talents have not been given the rewards they merit.

All those heartaches could could be banished at Wembley next Saturday and, if there is any justice in this game, Given will get the chance to give his 20-year career the iconic moment it lacks – but truly deserves.