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Northern Ireland v Greece: We have learned from our Hungary experience says Michael McGovern

By Steven Beacom

Published 07/10/2015

Clanger: Michael McGovern lets the ball slip through his hands, allowing Hungary to score at Windsor Park last month
Clanger: Michael McGovern lets the ball slip through his hands, allowing Hungary to score at Windsor Park last month

Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern believes the team can learn from the experience of last month's tension-filled draw with Hungary at Windsor Park and use it to their advantage to make the Euro 2016 finals dream come true.

Back on September 7, Michael O'Neill's players were in a situation that none of them had been in before - win and they were off to the glamour stages of a major tournament.

The home side started well enough, but nerves seemed to play a part in the second period with Hungary, desperately needing a victory to close in on Northern Ireland in Group F, taking the lead after a McGovern error. Chris Baird was red carded shortly after and with a loss on the cards, Kyle Lafferty stepped up in injury-time to snatch a 1-1 draw from the jaws of a demoralising and potentially campaign-defining defeat.

Tomorrow night it will be take two for O'Neill's players, with the same scenario: Victory and France will beckon.

McGovern said: "We are really looking forward to the game and the experience of last month against Hungary will help because now we know what to expect.

"Nothing will take us by surprise. To me this is a game to relish because it is a chance for us to qualify for the Euro finals which Northern Ireland have never done before and none of us want it to go down to the last game in Finland on Sunday."

At the time of the error against Hungary, when the ball slipped out of his hands and was poked into the net from close range by the visitors, McGovern was distraught.

He said: "I was disappointed with the goal I conceded in the last game but as a goalkeeper you have to accept that sometimes that will happen. You can't dwell on it."

He didn't. Since then the Hamilton ace has shown the character and class that helped him become one of the top goalkeepers in Scotland, putting in a number of fine displays for his club.

That has impressed manager O'Neill, who is likely to start McGovern against Greece. The 31-year-old, who first showed promise as a kid with Fermanagh and Western outfit Enniskillen Town, is well aware though that he faces tough competition for the spot in the shape of experienced fellow county man Roy Carroll and Alan Mannus, both quality goalkeepers.

McGovern said: "To get the nod against Hungary was a big achievement for me. Roy has been excellent since he came back into the squad under Michael and big Alan has been one of the best goalkeepers in Scotland for the past four years.

"I have waited a long time to get a chance and all I can do is try to take the opportunity."

For the first half of the campaign, Carroll was number one. Then came an injury which prevented him playing against Romania in June and McGovern has taken over.

McGovern is full of praise for Carroll's support and encouragement.

He added: "I am taking things game by game. I would never consider myself the number one because of the calibre of the others.

"If I play against Greece I will be delighted and if not, I will be supportive to whoever does play."

Belfast Telegraph

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