Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

David Healy: Michael McGovern has proved himself on world stage

By David Healy

It was a night Michael McGovern will never forget. He was the hero for Northern Ireland and against mighty Germany for good measure.

I've been extremely fortunate down the years to score big goals for Northern Ireland against big nations.

On Tuesday night in Paris, Michael was the star at the other end of the pitch.

Michael O'Neill's side may have lost 1-0 to the Germans, but had it not been for McGovern their goal difference would have taken a serious hit and potentially their Euro 2016 hopes too.

As it was we made it through on Tuesday as one of the best third placed sides in the group stages.

Michael really was fantastic. Some of the saves he made were brilliant.

I didn't quite know how good Michael could be in the tournament but he showed against the Germans what a top class goalkeeper he is.

When I was playing for Northern Ireland Michael was in and around the squad but because he wasn't playing you never knew if he had what it took to be a top class international.

He answered that question emphatically against Germany on a huge stage with millions around the world watching.

There were so many really impressive saves. The best one for me was when he clawed away a header from Mario Gomez late on. I think that was the best save of the tournament so far. Another stop I really liked was when he closed down the space to save from Thomas Muller who was clear on goal.

No wonder he said after the match that it was his best performance ever.

Going into our last 16 match Michael will be full of confidence, though by the same token he's not the type of person to let all the praise he has deservedly been getting go to his head.

I also want to pay tribute to another Michael... our manager.

The job that Michael O'Neill has done for the country has been sensational.

I have been a big advocate of Michael since his first days as boss. I knew Michael before he took over and he has always been an astute and very intelligent man. You can see how he has transferred that on to the pitch.

There was a time during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers - his first campaign in charge - when people were questioning whether he would stay on, but from what I saw from Michael during those games made me believe that we could move forward.

And that wasn't just at first team level. It was at all levels on the international scene. He has made important changes within the Irish FA and made things better for Northern Ireland.

Of course it took some time for him to get all his ideas across and the first campaign - especially versus Luxembourg and Azerbaijan - didn't go according to plan, but he was building something then and look at us now.

At this point it's worth congratulating IFA President Jim Shaw who backed the manager during those difficult times.

Jim was forceful in his support of Michael and it has paid off.

Michael is a man who will give great credit to his players, but I believe he should be a very proud man for what he has achieved on a personal level.

First he inspired Northern Ireland to qualify for Euro 2016 as table toppers in their group and now he has guided us into the knockout stages.

He is an outstanding manager and with him in charge, who is to say that we can't go further than the last 16. You can be sure that by the time our knockout match comes around, Michael will have the team perfectly prepared.

Belfast Telegraph