Belfast Telegraph

Roy Carroll here for keeps

By Steven Beacom

Roy Carroll says Northern Ireland have now set the standard for the rest of the World Cup campaign and has urged his team-mates to believe in themselves for the remaining qualifying matches.

After September's dismal 1-1 draw at home to Luxembourg, there was a feeling of despair amongst Northern Ireland fans and players, who were frustrated that they failed to get a win under their belts against the weakest nation in Group F.

Carroll was forthright in his views, apologising to the supporters for the result which was a massive let down.

Ahead of Tuesday night's encounter with Portugal, there wasn't much optimism flowing around with many of the 1300 strong Green and White Army fearing the worst, given that Cristiano Ronaldo was winning his 100th cap and intent on marking the occasion in style.

From the Windsor woe we enjoyed an almost perfect evening in Porto with Michael O'Neill's team producing a brilliant, battling performance to draw 1-1 with a nation ranked third in the world.

But for a late goal from Helder Postiga, the visitors would have won the game.

Carroll, one of a number of outstanding performers, was delighted with the display claiming that there was disappointment in the camp that they didn't secure maximum points.

The Olympiakos goalkeeper feels that the real Northern Ireland stood up on Tuesday and wants to see more of the same in the future, starting at home to Azerbaijan next month.

“I know this sounds stupid but we were really disappointed that we didn't win,” said the 35-year-old.

“Going into the latter stages 1-0 up we thought we could get the victory and then they scored a scrappy goal.

“I know we were under a lot of pressure in the second half but we expected that and I thought we were coping well. It was a big performance from us.

“Now we have to believe in ourselves more. We have shown the levels that we can reach and we have to move things on from here for the rest of the campaign.

“We have to keep working hard and when chances come our way we have to take them like in Portugal. Do that and we'll get more good results.”

Carroll continuing to give the outfield players confidence will certainly help in that ambition. He looks as assured as I've ever seen him on and off the pitch — and I've known him since he was a lively kid playing in Fermanagh.

In Porto, despite wet conditions, he was as safe as houses. It was his finest performance since returning from a six year international wilderness, wisely ended by O'Neill.

In many ways Tuesday showed that Carroll has come full circle.

When he made his international debut as a wide-eyed youngster way back in 1997, Carroll was billed as our big bright hope between the sticks.

Moving from Wigan to Manchester United four years later suggested Sir Alex Ferguson rated him highly too.

He left United in 2005 and, already losing his battle with Maik Taylor to be Northern Ireland's first choice, Carroll's career took the wrong path. While at West Ham he was hit by drinking and gambling addictions which spiralled into bouts of depression. He only came out of it by seeking refuge in rehab.

There were doubts about Roy becoming a top class goalkeeper again.

To his credit he revived his fortunes by impressing in Denmark with Odense and now he's starring for Greek side Olympiakos which has led to an international recall and effectively a walk out from previous number one Lee Camp, who didn't want to play second fiddle.

Like in the old days Carroll still laps up the banter — he can give it and take it — but he's more mature now which is helping his football.

“It's great to be back. I thought the call was never going to come but Michael gave me a chance and hopefully I can repay him with clean sheets in the future,” said Carroll (pictured) who described the attempts of the Portugal players to get him in trouble with the referee for time wasting from as early as the 10th minute as “embarrassing”.

Throughout the game Portugal fans were shining laser beams on the Fermanagh man.

He said: “I had a headache after the match but I don't know if that was down to the laser beams. When you’re playing in Greece you have to deal with a lot more.”

Roy Carroll could deal with just about anything these days. It's good to have him back.

Belfast Telegraph


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