The Donegal man said he wanted to speak just once about it – but did not want to do so again as he didn’t want to upset Speed’s family including widow Louise and sons Eddie (14) and Tommy (13).
“The last thing I want to do is cause upset,” Given told today’s Irish Times.
“I want to say something and I’ve been asked a lot about it. I want to remember Gary, speak of him as a friend. I don’t want to repeat the other great tributes that people have paid. But they’re true. Gary was a natural. I am proud to call him a friend.I’ll do it this once. I won’t go on.”
Shay says he thought the match for Aston Villa against Swansea was going to be called off as a mark of respect when news broke of Speed’s death a few weeks ago.
“We were told to keep getting ready but that it was going to be called off,” he said.
“But then it was definitely on. So you’re up and down. I was trying to get my head around it and I was all right in the warm-up.
“But then there was the minute’s silence, or the applause it turned in to, and the man on the microphone started speaking about Gary. Dunney and James Collins had their arms around me just keeping me up.
“I was just trying . . . But you can’t help how you’re feeling . . . Just devastating . . . It sunk in then.
“But then we had a game to play. I had to try to keep my eyes clear. Maybe I’d have been better heaving in my hotel room. It’s tough. It’s shock. The tears just come. You can’t keep it in.
“When Alan had called and spoken, he was kind of shaken as he spoke. I was shaking as I heard. It’s disbelief. Are you sure this is true?
“But Gary’s best friend John (Ratcliffe) had called and it was true. This was about 20 minutes before the team meeting. I had to tell the gaffer (Alex McLeish) and he was shaken once he heard. I don’t know what he said at the meeting, I was in a daze.”
Distressing pictures of Shay crying before that game were flashed around the world. Shay said he thought of Speed’s boys and said: “You’ve got to keep living.”
“It’s tough,” Given said. “It’s hard for the boys, so hard. I’ll miss Gary but you can’t put into words how much they’ll miss him, how they’re going to cope. I don’t know what to say.
“You can say ‘everything’s going to be all right’, but they are going to have bad days. There’s no magic wand. Everything’s changed. I’ve told the boys about my mother. I lost her when I was five. I know how much it hurts. It’s hard even getting the words out.
“There are going to be tough months and years ahead but they need to know there’s support from relatives and friends.
“You just try to help because you never get over things like this; you’ve got to learn to live with it. You never get over losing your Mum at five years of age. It’s something my brothers, sisters and myself have had to live with.
“We have had to get on with our lives as best we can. Obviously we’d love our Mum to be here. It’s not going to change. We’d love Gary to be here, to pick up the phone to him now. It’s not going to be. We’ll always miss him. But you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to keep living.”
You can read the rest of Shay’s emotional and uplifting interview in today’s Irish Times here: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/sport/2011/1231/1224309674848.html.