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I've loved every minute: Maik Taylor reflects on 'unbelievable' 20 year service to Northern Ireland

 

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Middle man: Maik Taylor alongside current Northern Ireland keepers Michael McGovern and Bailey Peacock-Farrell

Middle man: Maik Taylor alongside current Northern Ireland keepers Michael McGovern and Bailey Peacock-Farrell

Maik Taylor

Maik Taylor

Middle man: Maik Taylor alongside current Northern Ireland keepers Michael McGovern and Bailey Peacock-Farrell

Departing Northern Ireland great Maik Taylor has spoken about his 'immense pride' at representing the country that became his own.

The 47-year-old may have been born in Hildesheim, Germany but the goalkeeping great gave so much to the cause, winning 88 caps and being part of the coaching team that took the nation to the Euro 2016 finals, the Green and White Army view him as Northern Irish as an Ulster fry.

Perhaps that's why there was shock yesterday when the Irish FA announced that the former Southampton and Fulham star was leaving his role as goalkeeping coach to pursue other interests in football.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Taylor said: "I never wanted to give up my role with Northern Ireland but opportunities come up and football moves on.

"It is sad to let it go, though I've had an unbelievable time and wonderful experience with Northern Ireland as a player and a coach. It's been a 20-year association and I've loved every minute of it."

Taylor was manager Michael O'Neill's goalkeeping coach for the past five years, working with Roy Carroll, Michael McGovern, Trevor Carson and more recently Leeds youngster Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Prior to that, from 1999 to 2011 he shone in the No.1 jersey for Northern Ireland having been brought on board by Lawrie McMenemy.

With an English dad and German mum and being a British citizen born abroad, back then Fifa eligibility rules allowed Taylor to play for countries in the UK. He opted for Northern Ireland and never looked back, ironically making his debut against the Germans 20 years ago.

Taylor would go on to play in iconic Windsor Park victories over England and Spain. On other less memorable occasions his quality minimised the margin of defeats and some of his saves were stunning. One that comes to mind is a stop in Poland which had observers comparing it to when Gordon Banks famously denied Pele in the 1970 World Cup finals.

The ex-Birmingham goalkeeper, who quit the army to have a shot at making it as a professional footballer, made his final international appearance at the age of 40 in 2011.

"I'm immensely proud of what I achieved with Northern Ireland. That will never change. The fans were always brilliant with me, which I appreciated," said Taylor, who captained his adopted nation 14 times.

"Unfortunately when I played we were unable to qualify for a major championships, but we did enjoy some great nights, and to play in those victories over England and Spain when David Healy scored our goals was just amazing.

"Then I was given the opportunity to join the Northern Ireland coaching team which was a huge honour for me. It's the next best thing after playing. To get to the Euro 2016 finals was just incredible. It was such an extraordinary campaign from the boys."

Two goalkeepers helped O'Neill's team make it to France - Carroll, who for years Taylor competed against on the international scene, and McGovern, who would later emerge as a hero in the finals.

"Roy and Michael were outstanding in the qualifiers," recalled Taylor.

"It was difficult for Roy missing out on playing in the Euros but he was always respectful, which summed him up, and I know he was as pleased as me to see Michael do well in the finals.

"I remember when Roy and I were battling it out to be No.1 as players. We were always there to support each other whether we agreed with the manager's decision or not. That competition never came between us and we'll always be good friends.

"I think that's the way it should be with players and especially within the goalkeepers' union."

Peacock-Farrell is now the No.1 for Northern Ireland. The 22-year-old may not be first choice for Championship high-fliers Leeds at present but he is favourite to start at Windsor against Estonia and Belarus when the Euro 2020 qualifiers kick-off later this month.

Taylor played an influential role in ensuring that Peacock-Farrell chose Northern Ireland ahead of England and the Republic of Ireland, who were also interested.

"Obviously Bailey is English and was eligible for the Republic as well. They were after him but thankfully he decided to join us," stated Taylor.

"I went to watch him out on loan at York when he was playing all over the country and I think that went a long way to show Bailey we thought very highly about him and knew a lot about his potential.

"We stuck by him and he repaid us by declaring for Northern Ireland, and the manager repaid Bailey by playing him in a competitive international and now he has played a few games at international level, which for such a young man is fantastic.

"I believe he has all the tools to be top drawer if he keeps working hard and developing.

"He can go on and have a very successful career and Northern Ireland can benefit from that."

While Taylor won't be around to play a part, he nonetheless intends to keep a close eye on Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 games, which include eagerly anticipated group games against the might of Germany and Holland.

"It will be very difficult in the next Euros having been drawn in the same group as Holland and Germany but when you are a Northern Ireland player you should never fear anyone, especially at Windsor Park with our supporters roaring us on," said Taylor.

"I wish Michael (O'Neill) and the players all the best.

"He has done an incredible job and I hope and believe that there will be more good times to come for the team and the fans."

Paying tribute to Taylor, O'Neill said: "I would like to thank Maik for his excellent contribution over the past five years.

"He was a fantastic person to have around the squad and he did a great job in preparing our goalkeepers to perform at their best.

"Everyone involved with Northern Ireland wishes Maik well in his future coaching career."

A new goalkeeping coach will be appointed ahead of the start of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

Belfast Telegraph