Roy Carroll wants to shut out the Romanians like Pat Jennings
Roy Carroll was only eight on October 16, 1985, the day Pat Jennings produced a goalkeeping masterclass in Bucharest.
At home in Enniskillen, young Carroll didn’t watch the match, preferring to play football outside rather than sit in front of the TV.
He missed out on Jimmy Quinn scoring Northern Ireland’s winner after 29 minutes, Norman Whiteside’s missed chances, Jimmy Nicholl’s two goal-line clearances and a performance from Jennings in goal, at 39-years-old, that defied his age.
Quinn, as goalscorer, was hailed as the hero of Bucharest, but the striker bestowed that honour on Jennings.
Jennings foiled everything that came his way, frustrating a Romanian side that included a 20-year-old Gheorghe Hagi and who hadn’t been beaten in nine games at home.
The Romanians bombarded Northern Ireland but Jennings and the back four, which included the late, great Alan McDonald making his debut, stood firm. Victory in Bucharest was crucial to Northern Ireland booking their ticket to the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico.
Now, just over 29 years since that sensational win in the Romanian capital, it’s likely Carroll will have to emulate the exploits of Jennings if Northern Ireland are to come away from Bucharest tomorrow night with yet another positive result and a significant step towards the Euro finals in France.
Northern Ireland’s back four of Conor McLaughlin, Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley and Shane Ferguson have been stubborn and resolute throughout this campaign — a steel curtain in front of Carroll.
But Hughes has been struggling with injury although has been passed fit, while West Brom midfielder Chris Brunt is expected to replace crocked Ferguson at left back.
Northern Ireland top Group F on nine points after victories over Hungary, the Faroe Islands and Greece.
Carroll has made important saves in all three games, but the veteran stopper should expect his busiest night of the campaign tomorrow.
“I don’t have any personal memories of Pat’s performance or that win,” says Notts County goalkeeper Carroll. “I was only eight at the time, so it pre-dates any football memories I have. To be honest, I now struggle to remember what happened yesterday!
“But what I do know is that it will take another big performance like 1985 to get another positive result in Romania.
“We know what we need to do. We went out to Greece and nobody expected us to take anything from the game. They also said Greece played under-par, but I disagree. I think we stopped them from playing and that’s what we’ll have to do in Romania.
“We know what we’ll face in Romania. We have been watching DVDs of them and we are well prepared.
“People might say nine points from four qualifiers would still be a great start to the campaign, but we don’t think that way.
“We are going into every game looking to take points and that’s what our aim is on Friday night. The incentive is there to stay top of the group heading into 2015. It’s nice looking down at teams as opposed to looking up at them.”
At 37, Carroll, who played for Manchester United in an FA Cup final, should be coming to the end of his professional playing career.
But in fact it seems County’s No.1 Carroll, who returned to England after 18 months with Greek champions Olympiakos, is actually improving with age.
If Northern Ireland’s good run continues and they qualify for the finals in France, then Carroll will be just a few months short of his 39th birthday. And he could achieve a feat one of his illustrious team-mates at Old Trafford failed to do.
Jennings of course celebrated his 40th birthday when Northern Ireland played against Brazil at the World Cup in 1986.
Carroll adds: “For me personally, I want to try and win every game I play. To qualify for a major tournament would be a dream come true for me.
“I look at the likes of Ryan Giggs who was one of the best players in the world and never played in a major tournament.
“It would be nice when I retire and I look back on my career in 20 or 30 years’ time to reflect on playing at the Euro finals.
“It would be great to say ‘well, I played in a major tournament’. That’s every footballer’s dream.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead, but it’s fair to say it’s a big motivation for me. I’d love to reach the finals with Northern Ireland.
“The only way you can achieve that is to continue picking up points in the group. That’s our aim on Friday night. Take points in every game and you’re a little bit closer.”
While Jennings celebrated his birthday at the World Cup, Carroll could reach a half century of caps at the France finals.
He currently stands on 38.
“No, I haven’t allowed myself to dream that I’d win my 50th cap in France,” says Carroll.
“Three or four years ago, I never thought I’d be back playing for Northern Ireland. That’s how desperate things were for me outside football.
“For me to be back just playing for Northern Ireland is fantastic. Michael O’Neill and the coaching staff gave me great belief to come back into the squad and I’m loving it.
“They have shown great belief in me and I want to give them 100 per cent back. The supporters too. They travel all over the world to support us and I want to give them 100 per cent.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital