Given: It's our time to qualify
Shay Given is determined to end a long wait for a new generation of Republic of Ireland supporters.
The 35-year-old goalkeeper will head into the UEFA EURO 2012 play-off with Estonia on Friday in Tallinn and then next Tuesday at the Aviva Stadium never having played in the finals of the competition during his illustrious career. But he is also acutely aware that anyone born in Ireland since 1988, the last time the Republic made it, will not have even seen the nation go head-to-head with the best the continent has to offer.
Given, of course, played with distinction at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ finals, but admits this double-header could amount to the most important two games of his international career to date. "Well, they probably are because it's nearly 25 years since we have been at a European Championships. There are people of 25 who haven't even seen Ireland at a European Championships - that's really mad to even think about.
"They are the biggest games because they are the games coming up next, but they don't get much bigger than these games coming up next. We are all excited about them. There's pressure and expectation, but you have to take that on your shoulders and respond to it."
The two sides have met only twice before, during the qualifying campaign for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and Ireland won both encounters 2-0 with Given between the posts in Tallinn in June 2001. "I have good memories, obviously, we won the game. That's the most important thing," Given said.
"I remember the stadium. I remember quite a lot about it, not too much about the game, but I think Mart Poom was still playing in goal at that stage. They have come on a long way since then. Mart Poom was their main player then, but they have got a lot more football experience as a country since then."
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni is not a man to under-prepare, and his players will be provided with a dossier detailing everything they can expect the Estonians to throw at them ahead of kick-off. Given said: "Expectations are high in the country and that's a good thing, but then Estonia's expectations will be high as well.,/p>
"They have done well to get here by coming second in their group as well. They will have high beliefs and dreams of going to Poland and Ukraine just like us. But I have said before, there is a belief in the squad that it's our time to qualify, hopefully. But obviously, we have got two massive games to get through before we can even start thinking about next summer."
Unlike Estonia, Given and his team-mates have experienced the play-off situation before, although just how valuable a return of one victory from six attempts really is debatable.
The Aston Villa keeper played in Tehran as Ireland edged their way past Iran to win their place in Japan and South Korea, but he was also at the heart of the action the night France dashed their hopes of a return to the big stage just two years ago. "I don't want any more hard luck stories," the goalkeeper said.
"You just want it all to go to plan, that everyone plays right on top of their game and we get the results because there have been too many hard luck stories and what ifs and all the rest of it. Hopefully this time, it will be about us getting qualified and having a real buzz back in the country in the lead up to a major championships again."
Given will be fit to play his part in Estonia after returning to training today. Defender Richard Dunne and midfielder Keith Fahey were also put through their paces in Malahide following minor knee problems before the squad headed for Estonia.