Roy Carroll feeling just champion
So, just who is Northern Ireland’s most successful footballer right now? Jonny Evans, poised to win another Premier League title with Manchester United, Gareth McAuley, in outstanding form for West Brom or Inverness Caley Thistle’s Billy McKay, scoring goals galore in the Scottish Premier League?
None of the above.
The winner is goalkeeper Roy Carroll, who at the weekend claimed his second Greek Super League title in two incredible seasons with Olympiakos and he’s on course to complete successive league and cup doubles.
Carroll’s feelgood story is one of triumph over adversity.
The 35-year-old from Fermanagh has come through a personal nightmare and is, in his own words, in dreamland at present.
After four years with Manchester United in which he won the Premier League and FA Cup, Carroll’s life fell apart in 2006 when he was at West Ham.
Drink and gambling got the better of him and he ended up seeking refuge in a London rehabilitation clinic.
He received counselling and has since been trying to get his life back on track.
It’s only now though following spells with Rangers, Derby County and Danish club Odense that he is finally feeling settled and content with his lot.
After playing for Odense, he was out of work for the best part of eight months, with prospective employers said to be wary of his past. Thankfully OFI in Crete came calling in 2011.
The adventure in Greece had begun and it has become a joyful and successful period for Carroll coinciding with his long awaited return to the Northern Ireland squad after six years out in the cold.
Carroll (pictured) moved from OFI to Olympiakos in January last year and it has been silverware all the way with two league titles and a Cup. Some turnaround.
“For me it was and still is about keeping my head right,” reveals Roy with an openness not always evident amongst footballers.
“I’ve been off the drink for two years, have kept myself clean and things have been working out for me. I'm a lot wiser than I used to be.”
Asked if he felt proud of himself for overcoming his demons, the Fermanagh man added: “I guess deep down I do. Everything that happened was my own fault but once I sorted out the problems in my head I have been able to enjoy life again.
“I’m enjoying my football too. I’m 35 but I really do feel like a kid again. I’ve been playing in the Champions League, Europa League and I’ve been winning titles and cups.
“After all that had gone before in my life this is like a dream come true for me.”
Carroll wouldn't turn down a return to the Premier League one day, but his immediate future appears to be in Greece.
He says: “I want to stay here and the good thing is the club wants me to stay too. We are talking about a new one year contract which will hopefully be finalised soon. I'm settled here and so are my family.”
Carroll has become a firm favourite with the Olympiakos fans, who savoured beating fierce derby rivals AEK Athens 3-0 on Sunday to clinch their 40th championship with five games of the campaign still to go.
Carroll didn't play on the night, a consequence of a mystery illness that laid him low early in the year.
“I haven’t been playing in the league games recently. A while back I was taken into hospital and stayed there for five days with really bad stomach pains,” he says.
“They did tests but couldn’t find anything wrong with me. Then I returned to training and having been lying in bed for so long my back seized up and unfortunately I had to miss the Northern Ireland friendly with Malta last month which I was disappointed about.
“Being out of action the manager here brought in a young goalkeeper who has done well in the league so he deserved to play on Sunday night.”
Carroll, set to start in this month's World Cup qualifiers against Russia and Israel, will play in a Cup quarter-final tomorrow and suggests that after domestic dominance Olympiakos are determined to make a mark further afield.
“This is a really ambitious football club that wants to make an impression in Europe,” says the Fermanagh man.
“After winning the title we're back in the Champions League next season. We'll have a real go then. Before that though the plan is to win another double.”
Name: Roy Eric Carroll
Born: Enniskillen, |September 30 1977
Club career: Hull City (1995-97): 50 appearances.
Wigan Athletic (£350,000, 1997- 2001): 169 apps. |Honours: Football League Trophy 1999.
Manchester United (£2.5m, 2001-2005): 72 apps. |Honours: Premier League 2003, Community Shield 2003, FA Cup 2004.
West Ham (2005-07): 35 apps.
Rangers (2007-08): One app.
Derby (2008-09): 38 apps.
Odense BK, Denmark (2009-2011): 58 apps.
OFI Crete, Greece (2011-12): 16 League app.
Olympiakos, Greece (2012- present): 26 League apps. |Honours: Greek Cup 2012, Greek Superleague 2013.
International career: Northern Ireland: 11 under-21 caps. 25 senior caps