Friends tell how NI goalkeeping hero could have been GAA star
FRIENDS of Northern Ireland goalkeeping hero Michael McGovern have told how he might also have made his name as a GAA star.
The Enniskillen man produced a herculean performance on Tuesday night to restrict world champions Germany to just one goal and send Northern Ireland through to the knock-out stages of Euro 2016 - but it could have been a different story had he continued a promising Gaelic football career.
The 31-year-old was captain of the victorious St Michael's College Corn na nÓg team in 1999 at Casement Park and also played under-age club football for Coa O'Dwyers before turning his attention to soccer.
"He certainly was one of those guys you would have to imagine would have gone on to be a senior inter-county goalkeeper," said his former PE teacher at St Michael's, Francis Shaw.
Close friend Michael Kerr told how McGovern lined up in midfield or centre half-forward for Coa and stood out from a young age.
"He was a big lad, even growing up at 14/15 he was always bigger than other fellas," he said.
"He had a serious set of hands, but he could also kick 45s for the under-16s. You could see the foundations for a good goalkeeper - catching and passing. It stood out for him in the Gaelic and the fact he was that bit bigger and stronger he could easily have gone on and played at a higher level."
Another talented young Gaelic footballer was McGovern's international teammate Niall McGinn.
He played for Donaghmore, won All-Ireland vocational schools medals and represented Tyrone at minor and under-21 level, but spurned an invitation from Mickey Harte to play for the seniors against Dublin in the first floodlit match at Croke Park in 2007.
McGinn, who has also been supported by his home GAA club while in France, tweeted a picture of himself with McGovern yesterday, saying "Still buzzing, last 16 of the Euros. How good was this guy."
Meanwhile, the father of Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill also hailed McGovern's performance.
Des O'Neill, himself a former goalkeeper for Antrim's hurlers, said his display against Germany was "the best" he has seen.
Des won an All-Ireland junior title and Division 2 league medal with the Saffron county, as well as lining out as an outfield dual player for St Gall's in Belfast.
But while he admits soccer wasn't his first love, a choice between a big GAA game and a match involving his son - who played GAA up until he moved to England - offers no contest.
He told the Irish News: "Blood is always thicker than water - if he was playing in a big game for Northern Ireland or for his club, I would have gone to watch him. I think any father would do that.
"When he was growing up there was always a ball around the place and we would have played football in the back garden."