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Nov 8, 2011

Given out to end Irish pain

Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given thinks that his side have 'real belief' that they can put the pain of history behind them and qualify for Euro 2012 in their play-off against Estonia.

Given, 35, is the most capped player in his country's history but Ireland have failed to reach the European Championship finals since 1988 and, after the injustice of Thierry Henry's handball that sent France through to the World Cup at Ireland's expense two years ago, he is keen to put the country's recent play-off pain behind him.

''I think I've had my fair share of losing,'' Given told the Daily Mail as his side prepare to face Estonia in Tallinn on Friday night followed by the return in Dublin next Tuesday. ''We have a real belief in the squad that this is our time.

''We are at home for the second leg. That's the first time for me. When was the last time an Irish team qualified for anything in Dublin? It's nearly 25 years since we were involved in the European Championships and if we could qualify in Dublin that would be very, very special.''

Ireland lost to Belgium in a World Cup play-off in 1997, but beat Iran 1-0 on aggregate to qualify for the 2002 finals. They also faced Estonia in the 2002 qualifiers, where they were victorious, and Given is hopeful of progress this time around.

''I was in Estonia 10 years ago. We won both group games 2-0,'' he said. ''But in their history, this is their strongest team by a mile. They beat Serbia and Slovenia. Our players and fans need to have a reality check. We must not get ahead of ourselves.

''We've been around together as a group for a few years now. We've matured and we feel it's been too long since Ireland were there. I think qualification would have an impact on the country as a whole.

''There's been a lot of doom and gloom with the way the economy has gone. We'd hoped the lads at the rugby World Cup would get to the final and give everyone a lift.

''This is our chance to do that, to give people a feelgood factor, not just in football but in life in general. If we could do that I'd feel great about it.''

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