Holland v Northern Ireland: “It’s just like making my debut again”

carol19Roy Carroll is back in the Northern Ireland squad and the keeper is likely to get a first start for five years.

With a muscular physique, impressive tan and a radiant smile, goalkeeper Roy Carroll strode back into international football yesterday and uttered the words he’s been longing to say for six years – “I’m back”.

Confident, assured and looking totally at ease with the world, 34-year-old Carroll is ever so thankful to be given a second chance at international football.

Having last played between the posts for Northern Ireland when he was forced to hobble off minutes into a game with Spain, that will always be remembered for David Healy’s hat-trick in 2006, Carroll believed his international career was over, especially as he was continually snubbed throughout Nigel Worthington’s reign.

But Michael O’Neill has brought the Olympiakos goalkeeper back into the international fold and Carroll can’t wait to finally win a 20th Northern Ireland cap after sitting on 19 for so long.

“This is going to be like my debut all over again,” enthused Carroll, who is expected to start against the Dutch tomorrow night with regular No. 1 Lee Camp on the bench.

“I honestly thought, when Nigel never got in touch, that my time had been and gone. But things happen for a reason and Michael called me and said he was bringing me back into the squad.

“What happened between Nigel and I is over and behind us now. Northern Ireland is my country and as a young boy I always wanted to play for my Northern Ireland and now I’ve been given that chance again, it’s great. I’m very grateful to Michael.”

Carroll, who flew direct from Athens to Amsterdam to meet up with his international team-mates, has reignited his career in Greece after disastrous spells with Rangers and Derby County.

Next season he has the opportunity to play in the Champions League and, having returned to the international set-up, he’s already targeting being the Northern Ireland No.1 for the World Cup qualifiers which start in September in Moscow.

“Life is good,” smiles Carroll. “I am older, more experienced. I’m definitely more chilled out and that is what football is about, no point in being a professional footballer if you don’t enjoy football and relax.

“Olympiakos are in the Champions League next season, so what greater position could I be in? I will fight for the number one jersey and I have a year left on my current deal.

“I also haven’t come back here just to be part of the squad. I am here to fight for that number one position. Obviously Lee Camp is a fantastic keeper but when you get your chance you have to take it.”

With a capacity crowd in attendance and Holland with all their stars on show, Carroll knows the atmosphere could be intimidating but having played in front of passionate Greek fans during the last few months, the Fermanagh-born stopper will not be overawed.

“I’ll be nervous before the game – I think it’s only natural,” says Carroll.

“Really though I’m used to it all now as you wouldn’t believe how big Olympiakos is back in Greece.

“When you play a home match you honestly think you are playing in front of 100,000 out there, so believe me I’m more than prepared for the atmosphere on Saturday night.”