By Tim Harris
WALES and Ireland both sit in the difficult position of having goalkeepers who don’t play first team football for their Premier League clubs.
Wayne Hennessey and Shay Given of Wales and Ireland respectively, have both yet to feature in a Premiership game this season.
And having been confined to only the odd cameo appearance in the League Cup, both goalkeepers severely lack vital match practice.
Having their number one’s warming the bench week in week out has started to provoke evidence of a detrimental effect on International performance.
Before Wayne Hennessey lined up against Bulgaria at the Cardiff City Stadium last Friday, the most recent team he faced in a competitive match was Notts County.
Obviously this calibre of opponent is far from suitable preparation to warm up for a critical Euro 2012 qualifier. However, I’m sure Hennessey also gets plenty of practice on the Wolves training ground.
Amidst a wholeheartedly dire game of football, the Bangor born goalkeeper did clock in a fairly respectable performance between the sticks for Wales.
That said, it is hard to argue against the underlying reality that Premiership playing time would sharpen the Welshman’s game, and provide him with confidence.
Sadly, all the time Marcus Hahnemann stays fit and in form for Wolves, Hennessey won’t get a look in.
And Irish legend Shay Given finds himself having similar problems at Manchester City.
Anyone who has read a newspaper in the past three months will be well aware of Given’s situation.
Just like Hennessey, Given has been restricted to the League Cup this season, despite Man City’s participation in Europe as well as the Premier League.
One must feel sympathy for the veteran goalkeeper, who left Newcastle after more than 10 years of loyal, but medal-less service, only to find himself ousted by the young gun Joe Hart at Eastlands.
The Republic of Ireland were beaten 3-2 by Russia last Friday in their home qualifier.
And while credit should not be taken away from the Russians, who were organised and dangerous, Given was still unable to prevent three goals zipping past him.
It is usually a near impossibility to argue that Shay Given has played a bad game of football, but should his lack of appearances continue, his form may begin to waver.
Given has and always will be a top drawer goalkeeper. But in an almost carbon copy of Hennessey’s position, the Irishman lacks match practice.
In unfortunate circumstances for Wales, their second choice goalkeeper is Boaz Myhill, who is also struggling to break into his club’s starting 11.
Ireland however, have the services of Keiren Westwood at their disposal. And Westwood has been treated to first team football this season – in the Championship for Coventry City.
And so the issue continues.
Realistically, unless Hahnemann and Hart suddenly fall foul of favour, this problem is likely to linger.
Ireland might strike gold if Manchester City allow Given out on loan in the January transfer window.
But Wales may not be so lucky, and could be left to hope that Wayne Hennessey’s natural goalkeeping talent doesn’t fade too rapidly while he warms the Wolverhampton bench.
Maybe he could moonlight at the Arsenal – I’ve heard they need a keeper…