Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Romania: Michael McGovern is handed biggest match of his life

In safe hands: Michael McGovern trains yesterday in preparation for his competitive international debut in the absence of Roy Carroll PACEMAKER
In safe hands: Michael McGovern trains yesterday in preparation for his competitive international debut in the absence of Roy Carroll PACEMAKER

By Steven Beacom

Goalkeeper Michael McGovern will tonight be thrust into the spotlight for the biggest match of his life.

The 30-year-old from Enniskillen is set to wear the gloves for Northern Ireland against Romania at Windsor Park in a vital Euro 2016 qualifier following Roy Carroll's unfortunate withdrawal from the squad.

Carroll, who like McGovern hails from Fermanagh, has been the number one choice between the sticks since Michael O'Neill became Northern Ireland boss.

The Notts County ace has played in 15 competitive fixtures in-a-row, but abdominal pain has put paid to any chance of the 37-year-old continuing that run.

Yesterday's Belfast Telegraph revealed that Carroll, suffering from stomach problems, had not trained with the squad this week.

At a 12.30pm press conference on the eve of the qualfier, however, O'Neill seemed in confident mood that the former Manchester United goalkeeper would play. Asked about Carroll, O'Neill said: "Roy has a stomach upset so we sat him out of today's training, but he will be fine."

Just after 4pm, the Irish FA released a statement.

It read: "Northern Ireland's Roy Carroll is suffering from abdominal pain and has been declared unfit to play in tomorrow's Uefa Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania."

What that meant was Hamilton Academical star McGovern being promoted to the number one spot and 43-year-old goalkeeping coach Maik Taylor being listed as Northern Ireland's third goalkeeper in the 23-man squad for the qualifier.

Taylor, a big favourite with the Windsor Park faithful, will be on the bench. So too will be Cheltenham Town's Trevor Carson who was named in the original squad along with Carroll and McGovern.

On the face of it, Carroll's absence is a big blow because he has performed so superbly in this campaign. One man's misfortune, though, is another's opportunity and this is a chance for McGovern to shine on the big stage.

Fate has played a hand for Michael because had Alan Mannus not been unavailable due to his summer wedding, the St Johnstone goalkeeper may have filled in for Carroll.

Now McGovern has his very own match of the day...a match that could take Northern Ireland a giant step closer to the Euro 2016 finals should they win.

There will be pressure on McGovern because despite having been in the professional game for a long time and winning his first cap back in 2010, tonight will only be his fourth international appearance and his first in a competitive fixture. He has the attitude and ability to cope.

McGovern learnt his trade playing for Fermanagh outfit Enniskillen Town, a club well known in the area for giving youth a chance.

He moved to Celtic in 2001, but while on the bench during Scottish Cup final wins and a Champions League game in Barcelona, he had to move on to secure first-team football. McGovern had loan spells with Stranraer and St Johnstone before signing for Ross County in 2009. The next stop in 2011 was with Falkirk, where his reputation started to grow. In 2014 Scottish Premiership side Hamilton Accies snapped him up and last season he set a club record of 437 minutes without conceding a goal. Northern Ireland fans will hope McGovern produces that sort of form tonight.

Belfast Telegraph