All Ireland happy as another heroic Michael takes focus off manager O'Neill 6 years ago

All Ireland happy as another heroic Michael takes focus off manager O'Neill

Vive la compromise. A result to cheer both sides of the border as Martin McGuinness watched on from the stands.

Another Martin, also from Derry, will be delighted that Northern Ireland did not claim the point that would have potentially precluded his Republic of Ireland from qualifying for the last-16 as one of the four best third-place finishers.


Of course, Martin O'Neill's men will need to beat Italy for that to happen, but this result means a win in Lille guarantees progress ahead of Northern Ireland and Albania.

For the Green and White army, their anxious wait to see if three points was enough to progress to the knockout stages lasted only as long as it took Turkey to beat Czech Republic 2-0.

What would McGuinness make of the supporters endlessly singing a song about an unused substitute while one man on the pitch, goalkeeper Michael McGovern, was turning in one of the truly heroic performances.

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 21: Michael McGovern of Northern Ireland holds the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Northern Ireland and Germany at Parc des Princes on June 21, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)


You wouldn't see it at a Derry GAA match, the Northern Ireland first minister's sporting occasion of preference. The Sinn Fein politician among the green and white invasion of this historic old stadium. The fact McGuinness, Rory McIlroy and the rest were still comprehensively outnumbered by supporters of Die Mannschaft shows the scale of the task before them in the home of Paris St-Germain.

McGovern, whose day job is with Hamilton Academical, was magnificent. Pulling off a string of world class saves to frustrate a German attack that was finally given a pointy end by Mario Gomez starting.

It was the striker who opened the scoring for Germany after Thomas Muller pulled three defenders and McGovern out of position with a stubborn little dribble across the box.


Muller hit the crossbar with a neat sidefoot shot after Mario Gotze had reached the byline but apart from that the story of both halves was McGovern careering off his line to deny Gotze, Muller, Mesut Ozil, Gomez. There was an excellent fingertip save from a Sami Khedira drive and another superb reaction stop to deny Gotze from close range.

Late on he somehow clawed away a Joshue Kimmich header. Ozil being awarded man of the match was ludicrous and purely determined by the result.

Meanwhile Niall McGinn's introduction towards the end of the match meant, for the third game, this tournament's invisible cult hero, Will Grigg, was not to get a kick.


But it wasn't Grigg or McGovern who brought McGuinness to his first ever Northern Ireland football match. It was another Michael, the manager Michael O'Neill.

Two O'Neills from Northern Ireland, managing the international sides either side of the border.

Two O'Neills who played for Northern Ireland - for Martin's part during the glory years. For Michael's part, during the lean years that followed.

Republic of Ireland Press Conference, Stade de Montbauron, Versailles, France 15/6/2016 Manager Martin O'Neill Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Two O'Neills who toyed with careers away from football once their playing careers were over - for Martin's part in insurance. For Michael's part in financial services.


Two O'Neills who started out in management with profoundly unfashionable sides - for Martin's part Grantham Town. For Michael's part Brechin City.

Two O'Neills who came to international management from different places - for Martin's part the lucrative Republic job came about after an unhappy end to his tenure at Aston Villa and the first sacking of his career, at Sunderland. For Michael's part replacing Nigel Worthington seemed like definite career progression after a successful three seasons at Shamrock Rovers.

While a ropy start included a 6-0 defeat to the Netherlands, the steady if unsuccessful 2014 World Cup qualification campaign was followed by the topping of their group to reach this, their first ever European Championships.

Castigated for the defensive approach to the opening 1-0 defeat to Poland, Michael is now being lauded as a "magician" for the five changes to the team he made for the 2-0 win over Ukraine.

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 21: Mario Gomez (R) of Germany celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mate Thomas Mueller (L) during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Northern Ireland and Germany at Parc des Princes on June 21, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Michael managed to implement a more attacking formation and drop his star striker without Kyle Lafferty becoming disaffected. The Norwich man would still run through a wall for Michael, a sentiment to which many of his former charges at Shamrock Rovers would attest.

Keith Gillespie, Iain Dowie and Norman Whiteside were in Paris for this crucial game and they, like all Northern Ireland legends polled, think they have the best manager possible.

Had Martin been available in 2011 and money been no object he, a hero of 1982 World Cup and manager with a CV that included huge success with Leicester City and Celtic, would surely have been the best candidate possible.

Martin offered his friend Michael some advice on beating the Germans some months back: "Get as many men as possible behind the ball."

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 21: Conor Washington of Northern Ireland is tackled by Mats Hummels of Germany during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Northern Ireland and Germany at Parc des Princes on June 21, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

This they did, unfortunately it left Conor Washington (above) very isolated and Germany were able to dominate possession in much the same way as Belgium did in Bordeaux on Saturday. The inspired McGovern kept the score down, which may prove very, very important if Northern Ireland's neutral goal difference takes them through on three points.

McGuinness, a man familiar with balancing the numbers, will have appreciated that much.

Even if he can't understand why it is an unused Wigan striker, and not the two Michaels, who is serenaded by the masses.