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Roy Carroll insists Northern Ireland Euro journey has eclipsed his success at Manchester United

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll says qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals is a bigger and better experience than anything he achieved at Manchester United.

The Fermanagh man enjoyed league championship success and FA Cup glory and played in big Champions League encounters during his time at Old Trafford but insists nothing in his long career compares to being with his country in France.

Carroll, who is fighting it out with Michael McGovern to start Sunday's opening Group C clash against Poland, says: "This is bigger. This is Northern Ireland. We're a small country and I have been in the first team squad since I was 18. We had really dark days playing here before and this is a really big achievement for us to get to the Euros.

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"When you go to Manchester United you have players like Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt; all winners. It makes you think that to go there you have to concentrate. It's a very difficult place, some players can do it, some can't.

"When I was there I learned a lot from the players and it made me stronger. Sir Alex Ferguson was the manager and he taught me a lot. The hunger of players like Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo when he came in taught me a great deal. The team was full of world class players.

"Being with Northern Ireland is different. We have been through tough times and are now at a major tournament for the first time in 30 years."

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Carroll says he is feeling like a youngster again and is determined to savour every moment in France.

At 38, the new Linfield number one is the oldest player in O'Neill's squad but says he is feeling like "a 21-year-old" again.

He adds that the mood in the camp is relaxed but professional with the team ready for the challenges ahead.

"It's once in a lifetime, especially for those of us like me who do not have long left," says the ex-West Ham and Derby ace, who was in the international wilderness for six years before O'Neill brought him back into the fold.

"I'm like a 21-year-old lad again. It's brilliant. You go training and it's such a pleasure playing for your country and you have to make the most of it.

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"You can see for yourself that everybody is relaxed and happy and joking but we are not here for a holiday. We are here on business as professionals to do a job and go as far as we can in the tournament."

When Carroll was making his way at Wigan as a youngster, manager O'Neill was also there as a player. The goalkeeper is full of praise for his old team-mate.

"It's taken Michael two years to turn things around and look at the results," adds Carroll.

"We are at a major tournament. You don't see managers given time in club football. Even in League One and League Two there are managers getting sacked left, right and centre. He's had the time and proved himself to be a great manager."

Belfast Telegraph