Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016 countdown: Michael McGovern in party mode and ready for more celebrations

By Adrian Rutherford

Michael McGovern already had December 12 marked in his diary - but the date has taken on even more significance for the Northern Ireland goalkeeper.

The Fermanagh man planned to be enjoying a Christmas night out in Dublin.

But now he will have an eye on events more than 500 miles away as his team's Euro 2016 destiny is decided.

The draw for the finals takes place at the Palais des Congres in Paris on the same night.

And for the Hamilton Accies stopper, it will be the moment the enormity of reaching a major tournament finally hits home.

Northern Ireland already know they will be among the bottom seeds, and McGovern doesn't care who they pull.

"People have asked me that a lot, but I'm not bothered. The important thing is we're there," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's done by pots anyway so we know we're going to get a big team.

"It's going to be exciting next month when the draw is made and I think it will become a lot more real then. We're all looking forward to it.

"We've got a Christmas night out in Dublin that night so I'll be keeping an eye out for who we get."

A reliable goalkeeper, the 31-year-old has two hands on the number one jersey and doesn't intend letting it slip between now and the opening game.

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He played the first 45 minutes against Latvia on Friday night, and never looked flustered as Northern Ireland claimed a deserved 1-0 win.

"I didn't have too much to do and the boys in front of me did well," McGovern added.

"We're not giving many goals away and that has been a feature since Michael (O'Neill) took over, especially this campaign.

"We've been strong at set-pieces going forward and we don't concede many goals, and if you have those two ingredients you've got the makings of a good team."

The Latvia win was Northern Ireland's first in a friendly in more than seven years.

O'Neill will want to make sure it isn't a one-off, with international breaks suddenly taking on more importance as he fine-tunes his team for the opening match of Euro 2016.

And while the fans' focus is drifting towards next summer's finals, McGovern said the players must treat the pre-tournament friendlies just as seriously.

"There are only four, maybe five at most, games between now and the Euros," he added.

"As players you want to be performing as best you can to try and force your way into the starting line-up for that first game.

"People who are in the team want to stay there, and people on the bench want to show the manager what they can do.

"There are people on the fringes who want to catch the eye as well.

"Everybody wants to be part of the team, myself included, so we have to keep working hard to make sure we get there."

The win over Latvia stretched Northern Ireland's unbeaten run to eight games.

It was also their first friendly win since beating Georgia in March 2008.

"It's nice to break that one but more importantly it keeps the momentum going," added McGovern.

"You see the difference between now and 2008. We are going into games expecting to win and get results as opposed to hoping that things will happen.

"Confidence is high and the momentum is there, so we don't want to lose that.

"We've a good break now until the next game and hopefully we come back in March ready to go again.

"As players we have an individual responsibility now to go back to our clubs and get ourselves in the best shape possible."

Belfast Telegraph