Michael McGovern expresses sorrow of team over death of Northern Ireland fan
Published 14/06/2016 | 14:31
Goalkeeper Michael McGovern insists any disappointment Northern Ireland felt after defeat in their Euro 2016 opener was replaced by sorrow following the death of supporter Darren Rodgers.
The 24-year-old from Ballymena died in Nice following his country's fixture with Poland on Sunday evening having fallen over a seaside promenade barrier and through the roof of a restaurant on the French coast.
For a country where ties with the community are particularly strong, the news hit the squad hard, with manager Michael O'Neill visibly emotional when he spoke about the incident on Monday.
The Irish Football Association is seeking a minute's silence prior to their game with Ukraine on Thursday and will also ask UEFA whether the team can wear black armbands in Lyon as a tribute to Rodgers.
The news also ensured the 1-0 loss to the Poles was put into context for a squad who had just made history in Northern Ireland's first ever Euros final appearance.
"It puts things in perspective, it's very sad," McGovern said.
"Someone comes over here and supports us, and he was probably really looking forward to it and wanting to have a good time and then he doesn't come home.
"It's heartbreaking for his family and friends. Our thoughts are with his family and friends in Ballymena."
The news broke after a weekend where Poland and Northern Ireland fans had happily mingled together on the Cote d'Azur and in the Stade de Nice.
Those displays of unity were also evident in Paris on Monday night when, in the 24th minute of their match with Sweden, Republic of Ireland fans stood up, applauded and sang, 'Stand up for the Ulsterman'.
"It was really nice to see," said defender Jonny Evans.
"I hadn't seen it but we were told about it. Ourselves have put a request in to UEFA and we'll definitely try and pay our own respects in some sort of way.
"It shows from the Republic of Ireland fans, the togetherness that's been in the tournament, especially towards Northern Ireland fans.
"I think as players we've been very proud of the way they've conducted themselves. Everyone I've spoken to speaks about how the atmosphere they've created has been unbelievable.
"The atmosphere that Northern Ireland and Polish fans had created in Nice, there was no animosity between, they got together, enjoyed it and made it more enjoyable for us knowing our families are safe. You can go to the game and relax."
O'Neill's squad trained at their base in Stade-de-Georges-Reneins on Tuesday morning ahead of the contest with Ukraine in nearby Lyon in two days' time.
West Brom's Chris Brunt, who is out with the team despite recovering from an injury which has ruled him out of the Euros, was also spotted doing some work on an exercise bike before O'Neill conducted a long team talk in front of his players.