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Ireland's Shay Given has a generous heart

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Aston Villa goalkeeper and former team mate of Gary Speed Shay Given looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Aston Villa at Liberty Stadium on November 27, 2011 in Swansea, Wales  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Shay Given went up in many people’s estimation in the wake of his close friend Gary Speed’s tragic death a few weeks ago.

The Donegal goalkeeper touched so many hearts with the tears he shed for his friend as he attempted to concentrate on a mere game of football between Swansea City and his new Aston Villa club.

Since then, in a very emotive interview, Given has explained how close he was to Speed, how shattered he was at his friend’s death by suicide and of the duty he feels to Speed’s two young sons.

Rightly so, the Irish number one has been hailed by many for the spirit and character he displayed in very difficult times, and last Sunday he made another gesture that proves how big a man he really is.

Just in case you didn’t catch the football results from England last weekend, Aston Villa were dumped out of the FA Cup on Sunday afternoon.

Their Cup dreams are over for another year at least after they threw away a two goal lead – the first coming from Richard Dunne off a Robbie Keane cross – in a thoroughly entertaining 3-2 defeat to Arsenal.

What was interesting, both before the game and after it, was the relationship between Villa’s Irish players -- they started with five believe it or not -- and an Arsenal substitute by the name of Thierry Henry.

Not so long ago, the aforementioned Dunne, Keane and Given were on the receiving end of another body blow from Henry in a big Cup match, a World Cup match as it happened.

Henry’s double handball in the Paris playoff went a huge way to denying the Irish a place at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, and it has been almost impossible to forgive the Frenchman for that act of treachery.

Until now that is. Last Friday afternoon, in a training ground not far from the English city of Birmingham, Given sat down with journalist Graeme Bryce from the Irish Sun newspaper and spoke at length about Henry and that infamous handball.

He made it clear that he doesn’t regard Henry as a cheat. Nor would he allow the past to have any bearing on his professional relationship with Henry if they were to meet on Sunday as Villa played Arsenal in the FA Cup.

“I certainly don’t hold a grudge against Thierry Henry,” said Given in an exclusive interview just 48 hours before the big game in London.

“It was hard at the time for the Ireland players and for the fans. We should have been at the World Cup but you have to move on in life.

“I think some really harsh stuff has been written about Thierry Henry since that game, but I don’t follow that line of thought. It is water under the bridge now. I blame the referee, not Thierry Henry. He hand-balled it but players do that sometimes.

“The referee and his officials should have picked it up. I don’t blame him.”

It was, I have to admit, hard to read those words, and harder still to really take note of them.

No matter what Shay Given says, I still believe Thierry Henry cheated on that pitch and on that night in Paris. He could easily have kicked the ball into the crowd as soon as he realized he had touched the ball with his hand, not once but twice as the video replays clearly show.

Instead, Henry crossed the ball and France scored, and we went home with indignation as a constant companion in the 26 months since the Hand of Frog incident.

But maybe Given is right. Maybe it is time to move on.

Maybe we should follow his lead and give Thierry Henry a hug – just as Shay did after the final whistle at the Emirates on Sunday evening.

However, you and I will probably never get close enough to Thierry Henry to hug him. And I’m still struggling with the notion that we should forgive him.

But maybe we could go one better.  Maybe we could meet France in the second stage of the Euros and beat them this summer.

Henry won’t be playing -- by then he will be back in the MLS with the Red Bulls -- but I’m sure he’d understand the significance of it all.  Now that’s a theory I can live with.

Sideline Views

GAA: The Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson attended his first GAA match on Saturday night when he accompanied his deputy Martin McGuinness to the McKenna Cup final in Armagh City. Sadly for staunch Derry fan McGuinness, his beloved team lost to Tyrone despite leading by six points at one stage. I’m sure Martin explained the rules to Unionist Robinson, and I hope he gets to another game soon. We might even see him at Croker over the summer. If it was good enough for the Queen of England it has to be good enough for Ulster’s top politician?


HURLING: The Galway hurlers went on a bit of a scoring spree as they hammered UCD in the Walsh Cup on Sunday as new manager Anthony Cunningham opened his reign with an emphatic win. What was impressive in the one-sided game was the form of a very lean looking Joe Canning. He told a number of newspapers last week that he has yet to play a championship game for Galway in August and intends to rectify that this season. He might just live up to that promise with an All-Ireland semi-final appearance at the very least this coming summer.


SOCCER: Great to see that Shane Duffy is finally making waves at Everton and getting a real crack at the first team with the Premier League outfit. Not so long ago Duffy was a lucky man just to be alive after a freak training ground accident while on duty with the Irish senior team. Now he could be an outside bet for the European Championship squad. If he keeps going the way he’s going at Goodison, Trap is bound to sit up and take notice. Now that would be a fairytale story.


SOCCER: Keith Andrews will probably have left Blackburn by the time you read this. So desperate was the Dubliner to secure first team football ahead of the Euros that he asked to be put on the transfer window at Ewood Park before the transfer window closed on Tuesday. That decision cost Andrews a small fortune in entitlements with regard to any transfer fee but he doesn’t care – all that matters to him is playing enough football between now and June to keep his place in the Irish squad.


GAA: The Leinster Council is considering a proposal to allow players to put their names on the back of their shirts, like so many other major sports around the world. Whatever about the cost to parents when their kids want to buy a jersey with the Gooch or Donaghy on the back of it, the idea makes perfect sense for hurling where players have lost so much of their identity with the need – and the rule – to wear helmets. We’ll watch this one with interest.


SOCCER: News broke this week that Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland will play Bosnia and Herzegovina in a Dublin friendly before they depart for the Euro finals. One friend of mine asked me how they would manage two games in one day. I kid you not.

HERO OF THE WEEK
THE seventy-something Meath horse trainer Peter Casey turned the RTE airwaves blue on Sunday when he won a Grade One race for the first time as Flemenstar romped home at Leopardstown. Speaking just seconds after the famous win, Casey told RTE presenter Tracey Piggott live on air that he would celebrate later that night with “f*****g sex and all.”  Well, the good news is that Peter and his wife did indeed enjoy a romp of their own as they confirmed in various newspaper and radio interviews on Monday. The better news is that they put a smile on the face of everyone who came across the broadcast on RTE or the Internet. In these very troubled times back home, that fact alone makes Casey a real hero.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK
THE world seems very happy in the knowledge that Tiger Woods is back on form on the golf course, but once again his behavior let him down in Abu Dhabi last weekend. Woods may be a real contender again after all his personal problems, but why does he persist in the horrible act of spitting? He did again in the Middle East and was fined for it as they regard it as a bit of a no-no in that part of the world. Surely the man has enough money to buy some class?

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