Belfast Telegraph

Carroll's Hungary for more after the glory of Budapest

By Julian Taylor

He could be forgiven for thinking it was just another fine night chalked up in a rich, varied and successful career.

Yet, when veteran goalkeeper Roy Carroll joined his ecstatic team-mates, lapping up the September songs of triumph from the Green and White Army in Budapest's Groupama Arena, there was an instinctive appreciation of life, surfing the glowing wave of an Indian Summer.

Marvellous in Hungary; magnanimous and modest in victory. Carroll had lost that loving feeling for football, which probably accounts for a relatively small 36 cap count – but, under Michael O'Neill, the Fermanagh man has rediscovered his fire and passion for the beautiful game.

And what a game it was, as Northern Ireland swept up three points in that dramatic 2-1 super Sunday over a dejected Hungary to kick-start their Group F Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Notts County man Carroll (36) is content these days and isn't the sort to float away. Not even in the afterglow of a rare away win for his country.

You imagine he's going to be a busy man, between the posts over the next 10 games as the Ulstermen dream of taking their place in France two years from now.

"We really enjoyed that. It was a good night for us and now we can relax for a bit, before looking forward to next month's double header," Carroll told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We can now look forward positively to those games (against Faroe Islands and Greece). The Faroes' game is now every bit as important as the Hungary game for us."

The determination of Northern Ireland coping admirably after going a goal down in a hostile environment was especially pleasing for the evergreen goalkeeper.

"It was great how we bounced back and we'll need to do it again," says Carroll.

"But you know there's a way of saying 'pressure'. I didn't have that much to do as a keeper. I had one real save to do and one cleared off the line but I think the players we had coped with a lot against Hungary and they coped so well.

"We have a few young players coming through now with Northern Ireland, but in football we all have to grow up very quick, especially at international level if you make mistakes. In the past we would have probably lost 2-0 against Hungary but we got on top, showed that we now have back bone and got what we deserved."

And what a sense of grounding and humility the Enniskillen-born player has, too.

Carroll explained: "If I look back on every single game I've been in for Northern Ireland all I can say is that every time I play it's been fantastic, you know what I mean?

"I just loved seeing the Northern Ireland fans go crazy (in Budapest) and now it's a great life to be a professional footballer.

"I'm a changed person. I love playing football. I lost that love of football, but I've came back and am now enjoying every minute. It's all I live for."

Carroll could have remained in Greece where he relished the lifestyle at Olympiakos, and an offer was on the table to coach the club's young goalkeepers.

However, with ambitions to carry on playing first-team football, he finally got a call over the summer to play for Notts County. Last season was awkward and, given the fact Carroll's only real games were in a Northern Ireland jersey, the starring role in Hungary is all the more remarkable.

Moreover, Carroll's reinvigoration comes with age and wisdom.

After all, this is a man on the brink some years back, undergoing treatment for alcohol problems and stress.

A humanitarian award from the Red Cross 13 years ago for his kindness to a child with leukemia illustrates the former Manchester United keeper's appreciation for things of genuine significance beyond football.

"A few years ago I just fell out with football, if you don't have the right backing and all the things that people in it do," he added.

"But Greece was good for me and my wife Kerry. We moved there and I came back and played in the Europa League and Champions League with Olympiakos and I know I can do it. I started to work hard on the training ground and now it has paid off, helping Michael on big nights.

"I just take each day as it comes now, you don't know what's going to happen. That's what life's all about, and as I said, I'm enjoying every minute of every day and that's what I'm going to do with these players and with Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

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