Saturday 16 December 2017

No more lookalike problems for Michael McGovern

Michael McGovern, left, saves from Thomas Muller in the first half
Michael McGovern, left, saves from Thomas Muller in the first half

Four days ago Michael McGovern was mistaken for a lookalike but on Tuesday he announced himself to the continent and effectively sent Northern Ireland through to the last 16 of Euro 2016 with a string of stunning saves against the world champions Germany.

The 31-year-old was told he "looked a lot like Michael McGovern" during some down time in Lyon last week and jokingly informed that Northern Ireland supporter he often gets that - a refrain he will not need to make following events at the Parc des Princes.

It has been a long road to his country's number one jersey but McGovern, whose contract with Scottish side Hamilton expires in 10 days' time, has thrived in a major finals stage his country have not been at for 30 years.

And it was his heroics that kept Northern Ireland's goal difference at zero, which was good enough to send them through later on on Tuesday night.

McGovern joined Celtic at 17, though he never made a senior appearance in seven years for the Glasgow giants, and he spent a long time watching on the international stage too, with his second cap coming five years after his maiden appearance in 2010.

That particular cap came against Scotland, Northern Ireland's most recent defeat prior to this tournament, and later that summer when first-choice stopper Roy Carroll fell ill before the Romania game and second-choice keeper Alan Mannus was on his honeymoon, McGovern seized his opportunity and took the spot between the sticks.

He would then keep it, even after dropping a clanger in a crucial game against Hungary which threatened to ruin their qualification chances, and Mario Gomez's goal on Tuesday night was only the third he had conceded in eight competitive appearances.

Those statistics, coupled with the terrific saves he produced to thwart Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Gomez in Paris, will enhance his reputation to club sides who will be aware his deal is soon up with Hamilton, who he joined on a free in 2014.

"If you take into account the stage we're on and the level of opposition, I really enjoyed it," McGovern said when asked if it was his best-ever performance.

"I enjoyed the challenge, I've enjoyed the other games as well. The tournament has been more than we could have imagined."

McGovern was clapped back into the Northern Ireland dressing room after outshining many of the players who had led Germany to World Cup glory two years earlier.

"The players gave me a round of applause when I came in; that was really nice," McGovern added.

"It was great to have my family there, my wife and my wee boy, my mum and dad and a few others.

"I've spoken to a few of them on the phone and they were absolutely ecstatic. My wee boy is Kieran and I've got a wee girl, Meghan, as well but she's six weeks' old. She couldn't come because it's too noisy."

Even though his own fans did not recognise him a few days ago, Germany boss Joachim Low claimed he was aware of the man who kept his team at bay for most of the night.

"Of course I have heard of him before and we have analysed the opponent," Low claimed

"I have to compliment him. He has really kept the goal, great at reflexes, three to four times he was completely alone in the goal. He has shown a great effort, yes."

And it was that effort that kept the score down and ultimately sent his team through to the last 16 of Euro 2016 following Turkey's victory over the Czech Republic.

Press Association

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