Keiren Westwood No.1 – It’s a Given!

TALENTED ... Sunderland goalkeeper Kieren Westwood.
TALENTED ... Sunderland goalkeeper Kieren Westwood.
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KEIREN Westwood is set to become the long-term Republic of Ireland number one in the wake of Shay Given announcing his international retirement.

Given, the most capped player in the Republic’s history, had a poor time at the Euro 2012 finals and, after a summer of reflection, has decided to bring the curtain down on an illustrious 16 years representing his country.

That’s a decision which will effectively promote Sunderland keeper Westwood to the number one spot.

The Black Cats’ stopper has had to be patient in his pursuit of international glory with Given an iconic figure and Westwood himself saying he is a huge admirer of the Aston Villa goalkeeper’s abilities.

But with Given stepping down, and Westwood his clearly established deputy, the 27-year-old will hope to go on to a long and successful international career of his own.

Manchester-born Westwood won the first of his 10 caps in 2009 and is set to collect his next one when the Republic take on Serbia in Belgrade tomorrow night.

That match gives manager Giovanni Trapattoni a chance to experiment and Westwood was already pencilled in to start the game, but Given’s retirement means the number one jersey is the Sunderland keeper’s for the forseeable future.

Westwood will hope he and his team-mates will be able to put their disastrous Euro campaign behind them, when they lost all three of their group games and conceded nine goals.

He told the Echo: “The Euros were tough.

“We didn’t really give a good account of ourselves, if we’re honest.

“Maybe a long season caught up with us. We met up quite early and then, by the time the games came around, we might have been mentally a bit jaded and physically a bit tired.

“Serbia away will be a tough old game to be fair, but it’s one we’re looking forward to and hopefully I can get some minutes there as well.”

Given said his decision to quit international football had been “extremely difficult”.

“I have dedicated 16 years of my life to my county and I have a great affinity with Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad,” he said.

“I will continue to be Ireland’s biggest fan and wish the lads well as they embark upon their new campaign.”

Given made his international debut aged 19 while on loan at Peter Reid’s promotion-winning Sunderland, and quickly established himself as the long-term replacement for Pat Bonner.

After proving himself one of the best keepers in the world, he played every minute of the 2002 World Cup but was unable to stop Ireland going out in the second round on penalties to Spain.

He waited another decade before playing tournament football again, but what should have been a glorious swansong ended with an early and ignominious exit from the Euros.

Given says he will make himself available again if Ireland has an emergency, but Westwood will hope such a situation does not arrive and he can go on to prove himself as good a servant to Ireland as his predecessor has been.