Jimmy with Shay Given in Dublin on Saturday night
I was in attendance as the Donegal Assocation crowned Shay Given the 40th recipient of the Dublin's Donegal Person of the Year in the Ballsbridge Hotel last Saturday night.
The award was long overdue and it was tremendous night for everyone attending.
Just a week prior to the event, my wife Mary and I bumped into Shay in Strabane at the trendy Fir Trees Lodge Hotel. I spotted his father Seamus Given, also a great keeper in his day, in the distance and went over to speak with him.
He was having Sunday lunch with Shay and his family. Shay wasn’t mobbed as it was not his area and we had good conversation about his time growing up in Liffford and his introduction to soccer at that time. His Donegal roots are never far from his thoughts.
I read his book recently - 'Any Given Day'. He wrote fondly of arriving home to Lifford after the World Cup and the sing song in Harte's Bar, led by my cousin Mickey Joe.
He also gave a rundown of all the challenges that he went through and the part that stood out for me was his memory of his mother who passed away when he was just 4 years old. He tells of going to big matches with his footballing gear and a photo of his mother with him.
They were tough times for him but he has become an icon for young Donegal players who want to make it cross channel. He’s the inspiration. What stands out is that throughout all this he has kept his humility and friendliness which is very evident in his dealings with everyone he comes in contact with.
As we parted ways we promised to meet up at the function in Dublin for a drink and a quick chat for this article. Unsurprisingly Shay was true to his word. He helped push me in my wheelchair to a quieter area. I was in very safe hands. As he had announced his retirement moments earlier it dawned on me this was his first post retirement interview. The pressure was on!
I asked him about his many managers. He told me: “Kenny Daglish was one of the best managers I worked under. He brought me to Blackburn Rovers at 18 and then Newcastle at 21. He gave me my chance to play in the Premier League. I owe Kenny so much”.
When I enquired about his proudest save he told me, for club, it was a Tyneside derby against Sunderland in the Stadium of Light where he made that acrobatic save against striker Kevin Phillips in the 2001/2 season. He made a few important saves that day and was named man of the match. For country, it was that impossible save against Karimi of Iran at home in the 2002 World Cup qualifier. “To keep a clean sheet at home was so important” citing it as “probably the biggest and most important save I ever made”.
Will he ever manage? “I don’t know what the future holds. I'm doing some media work on TV & radio and it's going really well. You never say never Jimmy, but at the minute I can't see it. But you don't know what's around the corner.”
Finally we spoke of the nomination for Donegal Person of the Year, Shay told me how “it's such a huge honour. Hopefully I'll do the county proud, not just for the next year but for the next few years.”
Donegal is certainly in very good hands.