PARIS (AP) Michael McGovern gave all he had in the game of his life at the European Championship, and got plenty in return.
After defying Germany again and again in a 1-0 loss, the Northern Ireland goalkeeper was given: The shirt of his admiring opposite number, Manuel Neuer; an ovation of applause by teammates in the locker room; and a place for his team in the round of 16.
McGovern can also now expect a lucrative personal reward for showcasing his talent on the biggest stage of an unheralded career.
The 31-year-old is a free agent next week when his contract with struggling Scottish club Hamilton expires.
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And his future earning power was given a real boost after McGovern saved Northern Ireland from a German beating on Tuesday that could have sent the team home from its first major tournament in 30 years.
Instead, his team advanced among the best third-placed sides because its goal difference tally of zero is better than Turkey and Albania who have minus-2.
“We’ll see what happens,” McGovern said after his standout day at Parc des Princes. “Playing at this level is something I relish and I love it at Hamilton.
“But I want to play at as high a level as I can and my contract is up in two weeks, so hopefully my agent will be speaking to a few clubs.”
Before Euro 2016, newly promoted Rangers was in line to sign a player who should now get offers from clubs in England.
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A one-handed block from Mario Goetze’s shot early in the second half was truly world-class, and a diving save to push away a late Mario Gomez header ensured Northern Ireland’s hard-working defense did not concede a morale-sapping second goal.
Only Gomez’s side-footed shot in the 30th minute, after Thomas Mueller’s clever run and pass drew McGovern out of position, got through.
“I don’t what kind of day he had, but he fished everything out,” Gomez said.
McGovern’s unexpected impact is such that Germany’s World Cup-winning coach Joachim Loew was asked if he knew of the `keeper who was playing in only a 14th international match.
“Of course I have heard of him before,” Loew said through a translator. “He has kept goal brilliantly and shown great reflexes. Three or four times he was completely alone in his goal, he put in a great effort.”
In just the first half-hour, McGovern was fast off his line to block and smother shots by Mueller, Goetze and Mesut Ozil.
A total rout seemed possible – like the 8-1 thrashing McGovern and Hamilton took in January from Celtic, the club where he spent seven years without ever playing a first-team match.
“Michael’s not stupid. He’s played in a team this season that fought for their lives in the Scottish Premiership,” Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill said. “He makes a lot of saves every week.”
The coach said his No. 1’s display against Germany simply continued a “fantastic” tournament.
“The players gave him a round of applause when he came in the dressing room and, when that happens, you don’t really need the manager to say any more,” O’Neill said.
By the time Northern Ireland plays Germany again in October – in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match at Hannover – O’Neill expects McGovern to be at a higher-profile club.
“How he has progressed in the last 18 months is phenomenal,” the coach said. “He’s worth at least 15 points a season to his club, no doubt.”