By Brian Murphy
It was fascinating to hear afterwards that he would always be following you and always looking out for the results.
Michael Murphy, Donegal
When word spread that Irish soccer goalkeeper Shay Given was to attend Donegal training last month, the grapevine was abuzz with all sorts of rumours that one of Donegal’s most famous sons was going to become the latest Irish star from another sport to go back to his GAA roots.
The news came shortly after Mayo announced the addition of former Connacht rugby player Gavin Duffy to their squad and word of two-time European 400m indoor champion David Gillick’s decision to return to play with Dublin club side Balinteer St John’s.
While Given, currently contracted to Aston Villa, was never getting involved in any capacity other than to help out with Donegal’s goalkeepers and to offer some advice to the players, the buzz generated by his involvement was a measure of the Lifford man's standing in the county.
The presence of a player with 125 caps for the Republic of Ireland soccer team and a lengthy career in the Premiership with Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Aston Villa at a session in MacCumhaill Park was a hugely positive experience, says Donegal captain Michael Murphy.
“It was brilliant. He’d be friendly with one of our goalkeeping coaches (Pat Shovelin) and he came over to the training,” Murphy, who was named as the GAA/GPA Player of the Month for May at a ceremony in Croke Park on Tuesday, reveals.
“There was word that he might have been in on the Tuesday night, but he came in later in the week. He took part in the training and he was down with Michael (sub 'keeper, Boyle) and ‘Papa’ (first-choice 'keeper Paul Durcan).
“He came up then and got involved in a few games and stood in nets for them."
Given said afterwards that he enjoyed the session and paid tribute to the professionalism of the Donegal set-up.
“I’m very rusty because I was about 15 the last time I played Gaelic football. The training is fantastic and it’s great to be a part of it," he told the Donegal Democrat at the time.
“The dedication, fitness and work rate they put in is phenomenal. You would go far to see a fitter team in the Premier League. It’s hard to believe they’re amateur with the professionalism of the players and the staff.”
Given spoke to the players afterwards and Murphy admits it was a real thrill to learn that the 38-year-old follows the Donegal team's fortunes very closely.
“Afterwards he was around for a bit of a chat and what not. It was great to see him because I had never met him before and he was a sound fella, very level-headed," Murphy adds.
"Any time your chatting him and getting a few ideas and pointers, and I think it was for the goalkeepers more than anything they got to see him, they got to train alongside him.
“It was fascinating to hear afterwards that he would always be following you and always looking out for the results. It was interesting to hear that coming from a fella that has so much experience in terms of what he has done for Ireland and at club level in the Premiership.
“I suppose he’s a superstar, and he’s a superstar in terms of Donegal too. There’s always excitement when you see him come in to the dressing room and to get togged out and everything beside you, you’d be scratching your head and saying, ‘are these things really happening?’.
“In fairness, he came out and did all the training and there were no airs and graces about him at all, he was a lovely fella.”
Donegal manager McGuinness is also rumoured to be lining up another Republic of Ireland soccer international, Séamus Coleman, to join up with the squad for a session.
Everton star Coleman played for Donegal and his club Killybegs at underage level before he was lured away to play professional soccer.
“He’d have been a year ahead but we played underage all the way up, he was a great player,” says Murphy. “A wing-back and he would have fitted in to the modern game now just ideally and perfectly.
“Seeing the story of him going from St Catherine’s to Sligo Rovers to Everton in such a short space of time. To be so successful is something we’re all very proud of in Donegal.”