Arguably the greatest Irish goalkeeper of all time, Shay Given enjoyed an astonishing career that spanned more than two decades. He entered the FIFA Century Club, earning his 100th cap in 2009, and went on to appear a total of 134 times for his country, keeping clean sheets in 52 of those games and appearing in the Irish squad at three major tournaments.
Born in County Donegal in 1976, Given spent his formative years with Scottish side Celtic and was snapped up by Blackburn in 1994. He made two appearances for Rovers but spent a lot of time out on loan, and it was there that he really started to make a name for himself, keeping 12 clean sheets in 17 games for Sunderland and earning a move to Newcastle.
Despite strong competition, the stocky shot-stopper quickly made himself the first name on his manager’s team sheet with some superb performances as Newcastle made it all the way to the FA Cup Final in Given’s first season. It was around this time that the Irishman also started to establish himself at national level, swiftly becoming the country’s number one.
His genes hadn’t blessed him with the same height as some of his contemporaries, but Given’s cat-like agility and lightning-fast reactions set him apart as one of the top keepers of the Premier League. He was capable of mistakes like any keeper but demonstrated a lot of consistency and an innate ability to read the game and always think one step ahead of opposition forwards.
He starred for Newcastle in his early years at the club but faced a major challenge in 2000 after an injury ruled him out, allowing understudy Steve Harper to take his place with some very impressive performances. Frustrated, Given went as far as submitting a transfer request, but later admitted he’d only done so as a way of airing his anger.
Given broke back into the first eleven after Harper got injured and maintained his place, starting almost every single Premier League game in the five subsequent seasons, as well as appearing often in European competitions as Newcastle enjoyed some ups and downs on the continental stage. Unfortunately, injuries and club crises wrought havoc on Given’s final years at the club and he eventually found himself making a switch to newly-rich Manchester City.
Given did well at City but was eventually ousted by Joe Hart. Spells at Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Stoke City followed, but injuries and squad competition prevented the Donegal man from having much of an impact in the twilight years of his career. He did, however, turn out for Ireland several more times and left a legacy as one of the all-time greats before retiring. The 134-cap man is currently working as a goalkeeping coach at Derby County, where any young keepers will surely be thrilled to have a star of his calibre to show them the way.
Goalies often suffer the misfortune of being more commonly remembered for their mistakes than their saves, and Shay Given was no stranger to this. Despite his innumerable heroic performances between the sticks, the Donegal stopper came in for criticism from both fans and managers, with many critics claiming that he struggled with crosses. Given’s aerial ability was certainly one of the weaker aspects of his game, but he more than made up for it with a long list of outstanding reflex saves and a good command of his area and defenders.
A selfless man who lost his mother to cancer at an early age and spent a lot of his free time organising charity events, Given also notably donated all of the money he earnt at international level to charity, cementing his status as a good guy both on and off the pitch. He never won the trophies and plaudits that a player of his ability deserved, but his consistent brilliance and unparalleled service to Ireland and Newcastle United, in particular, should never be forgotten.