Posts Tagged ‘Northern Ireland’
Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern spent last season toiling for Scottish strugglers Hamilton Academical, but his brilliant display against Germany at Euro 2016 made him the toast of Paris. The 31-year-old pulled off save after save on Tuesday to frustrate the world champions and while Mario Gomez found a way past him in the 30th minute, it was only thanks to McGovern’s electric reflexes that the score remained 1-0. Captivating the 46,000-capacity Parc des Princes, and reaching the last 16 in the tournament, was a world away from his experiences with Hamilton, whose average home gate last season was 3,027, but Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said that his role in their relegation battle had been ideal preparation. “Playing for Hamilton Academical, he makes a lot of saves every week,” said O’Neill.
How Michael McGovern went from perennial bench-warmer at Celtic to Northern Ireland hero. My piece for AFP can be read here.
Lafferty was branded an ‘out-of-control womaniser’ by Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini after leaving the Sicilian club in 2014, but, carefully handled by O’Neill, the 28-year-old has become a talisman for his country, replicating the exploits of David Healy in previous qualifying campaigns. The Northern Irish squad is a blend of wizened old pros and up-and-coming talent, the experience of stalwarts such as defenders Chris Baird (33) and Gareth McAuley (35) supplemented by the verve of players such as young Manchester United defender Paddy McNair (20) and 24-year-old midfielder Oliver Norwood. O’Neill’s man-management has also been a key factor, helping the former Newcastle United midfielder rouse his players to climb from 88th to 35th in the FIFA rankings. “There was a period when Michael went a number of games without a win, but he stuck with it and never gave up,” said Nigel Worthington, one of O’Neill’s predecessors.
I’ve written something on the stories behind and Wales and Northern Ireland’s successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaigns. You can read it here.