IT’S A WEATHER forecast that makes Malahide seem like the Mediterranean, but even if the weather plunges to a bitter -10°C on Friday, David Forde won’t be caught cold against Sweden.
The Millwall goalkeeper has become the heir to the Ireland number one jersey following Shay Given’s international retirement, dislodging Keiren Westwood in the recent friendlies against Greece and Poland.
Now at 33-years-young, he’s set to make his first competitive start for his country when Giovanni Trapattoni’s side line out in sub-zero Stockholm for their crucial World Cup qualifier.
A decision on whether or not to close the roof of the 50,000-seater Friends Arena in a bid to jack up the temperature is unlikely to be taken until close to kick-off.
Confined to his penalty area Forde will be a bit more vulnerable than his outfield counterparts who will at least be able to work up a sweat, but hot or cold, roof open or closed, the keeper says he’ll be on his game if named in Trap’s starting XI.
“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it,” he admitted on Monday. “I’ve played in all sorts of weather conditions. If the roof’s open, fine; if it’s closed, we’ll just get on with the job ahead.
It is difficult playing in extreme conditions. It’s one of those, whatever way it’s going to be, we’re going to have to control the conditions on the night. We’re all professional enough to deal with it.
I’ve been in the game long enough to deal with those situations.
Being cold while away on international duty is something that Forde has gotten used to over the last few years, watching on from the bench and from the stands as Shay Given continued to be the first name on Trapattoni’s team-sheet.
It was his club form with Millwall that first caught the Italian’s eye and eventually earned Forde his debut against Northern Ireland in the 2011 Carling Nations Cup.
But when Given departed the international scene following the disappointment of Euro 2012, the former Galway United man still found himself second in the pecking order to Westwood.
That has changed, and with Westwood unable to force his way into Martin O’Neill’s plans at Sunderland, Trapattoni confirmed that he now sees Forde as his new number one ahead of last month’s friendly against Poland.
If he plays, Friday will be his sixth cap but his first competitive start. It has been a long time coming.
“I’ve never stopped believing,” he says. “I’ve always been quite positive and I’ve had a lot of belief in my own ability. I just kept doing the right things and I knew that hopefully some day that would be enough. I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve managed to get my head in the door.
You prepare for these times and that’s what keeps you going: the thoughts of playing for your country and playing in big games like this. That’s what gets you through the hard times — and even then they’re not hard times because you’re involved with your country. That’s something that you want to do since you’re a young kid.
I’ve come into the game relatively late as well so I relish it. I do treat it as a very special thing to me.
Faced with what is sure to be formidable opposition in Stockholm, it helps that Forde’s most recent game in green was that 2-0 win against Poland. Clean sheets breed confidence but his latest caps have also helped him settle into his new position of responsibility.
“It’s integrating into the squad and integrating into the 11 as well,” he explains. “Every time you play, it just gives you that bit more confidence, the familiarity within the team and the surroundings and the set-up.
“The previous friendlies were big for me and I hope I can continue my club form and what I did in the friendlies into Friday night.”
He doesn’t have to look too hard for a good example to build upon.
You look at Shay and in my eyes, he’s one of the best servants the country has actually had. They’re big boots to fill. He’s been a big player for Ireland down through the years, and I’m just hoping I can step in and do a similar job.
Unsurprisingly much of the talk about Friday’s opponents has centred on the threat of one man; a man who dialled the golazo hype machine up to 11 with a sublime overhead kick the last time he played at the Friends Arena: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“Whoever that guy is, we’re talking about him,” Forde jokes. But in all seriousness, he insists, Ireland have to concentrate on their own game rather than on Sweden’s big man up front.
“He’s a world-class striker and we’re going to have our hands full with him but we’ve just got to control the controllables and that’s what we’ll do. We’ve just got to worry about ourselves and concentrate on our performances.
It’s not insurmountable, the challenge ahead. We’ve seen what they did to England at home as well [a 4-2 friendly win last November] so we’ve got to be on our toes. It’s given us an eye-opener that we’ve got to prepared and be ready for a tough game.
He adds: “It is a vital, vital game. We want to stay in contention. We’re still in a good position, we’re a point behind Sweden, so we want to go there and look at getting a result.”