Hero and Villan: Shay Given talks to JOE
JOE.ie meets up with Shay Given who admits that he's 'hungrier than ever' for the new season to start and that internationally he won't look further than the European Championships.
After a frustrating season at Manchester City, where he was fit to play but consistently lost out to English keeper Joe Hart, the Republic of Ireland shot-stopper is preparing for his first season at Aston Villa. Frankly, he can't wait to get going.
"I'd say I'm hungrier now than I've ever been at any point in my career," he says.
"After such a frustrating year I'm desperate for next week to come around and for the Premier League to start with me playing in goal for Villa.
"If I'd been playing I'd obviously have been happy to stay at Man City because there are huge things happening there. But after the well-documented frustrations I've had I'm delighted to have left.
"Since I left Lifford as a young boy it was all about playing football. That's always been the case. Twelve months ago I couldn't really look forward to the season. Being fit for most of a season and knowing you're not going to play is really difficult. Whereas now I'm really excited. I feel like a kid before Christmas again.
"The hunger and excitement even playing in the pre-season friendlies was really noticeable. I'm desperate to get going and impress the Villa fans."
Speaking at ESPN's launch of their coverage of the Premier League and of the Scottish Premier League, and ahead of the Republic of Ireland's friendly against Croatia, he spoke of being "taken aback" by the strength of support he's encountered in his first few weeks at Villa Park.
"So far I've been really struck by the passion for the club that the Villa fans have. We launched our new kit in a shopping centre in Birmingham and there were Villa fans filling the place on several floors.
"It was then that the size of the club and its fan base really struck me. It was great that so many would turn up for the launch of a new shirt.
"I've been really surprised by the whole set-up. The training facilities, for example, are the best I've ever played at. They may not have all the resources as the likes of Chelsea but there's a huge history and hopefully if we can get a couple more players before the start of the season then we can have a good season."
"I've not met [Villa owner] Randy Lerner yet, so I don't want to say we're desperate for players, but maybe we could get a couple of loanees just to strengthen the squad. But if that doesn't happen then we do have the nucleus of very good team.
"The only concern would be that things might get a little thin on the ground if we get any injuries or suspensions."
Of course this season Villa is a club under new management, with Alex McLeish at the helm having made the short journey from Birmingham City.
"I think Alex McLeish's man management skills are really strong. I'd met him a few times over the years and had been impressed by him, so I'm really looking forward to working with him," he says.
It'll be nice playing at Villa Park and not getting the abuse of being an away goalkeeper!
Shay joins fellow Republic of Ireland man Richard Dunne at Villa Park and unsurprisingly, the two had words ahead of the move.
"I spoke to Richard a few times ahead of the move and he was keen for me to join him," Shay says. "It helps you settle in, knowing some people at a club. So it helps knowing a few players at Villa already.
"I like playing behind Richard - I think we make a good pairing - and I'm looking forward to playing behind him for both club and country.
"There were other offers, including one from Turkey, I think, but the move to Villa just felt right. I've only been there a short time but I feel at home already.
"It'll be nice playing at Villa Park and not getting the abuse of being an away goalkeeper!"
When asked about the concerns voiced by some Villa fans that McLeish's management style produces football that's dull to watch he suggests that once the new season gets under way it'll be the points rather than the style of play that'll decide whether the fans are kept on side.
"I think it's all about results," Shay says. "If we get good results then the fans will be singing from the rafters, if we get a few bad results then it'll be because we're playing negative football.
"That's part and parcel of football at any club, but hopefully we can get off to a good start. A good start builds confidence in a team and hopefully you can build on that."
Given is expected to follow in the footsteps of veteran USA keeper Brad Friedel. But Villa go into the 2011-12 season without the likes of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, putting extra pressure on their star signing.
"Brad had a fantastic few years at Villa. He was very consistent and I think that's one of the key things you look for in a good goalkeeper. You don't want to be brilliant one week and then horrific the next week. Every Villa fan you speak to is very thankful for the job Brad did, so it's up to me know to take on that mantle.
"Stewart Downing and Ashley Young are obviously two big losses, but we bought in Charles N'Zogbia, who's been a great addition I think. Ideally it'd be good to bring a couple more in. But even if not we've got people like Darren Bent who's naturally a goal machine and has looked really good in games and in training these last few weeks.
"Gabby Agbonlahor has been there for a few years and hopefully he'll step up to where we know he can go. Ciaran Clark is still very young but he's very eager to learn and he shows real versatility having played in midfield and as centre-half. He's very keen to progress and be the very best he can be.
"Dunny is looking really lean and fit right now which bodes well for Villa and for Ireland as well. Stephen Ireland has not looked as sharp on the pitch as he has in training, but that will probably come with match games. If you can get him on his game he's a top player."