MICHAEL McGovern admits that Northern Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off final defeat to Slovakia was a hard one to take, with Ian Baraclough’s side losing 2-1 after extra time at Windsor Park.

An 87th minute own goal saw Northern Ireland hit back to level after the visitors had taken an early lead – and Kesh man Kyle Lafferty almost snatched the victory moments later, only to see his terrific effort hit the base of the post.

However, it was Slovakia who were to progress to the tournament as Duris fired home in extra time to deny the home team.

“It was a tough one to take,” said McGovern, who was named on the bench for the game.

“It was bitterly disappointing to be beaten, but in terms of the performance and the game, I thought we played really well and we were really hurting afterwards.

“It would have been amazing if Kyle had managed to score that one late on – it was a good effort, and it is unfortunate that it never went the right side of the post,” he added.

Northern Ireland did not have long to dwell on the defeat as they were back in action on Sunday in the Nation’s League.

And McGovern was back between the posts for the game as he earned his 33rd cap, although two late goals saw them slip to a 2-1 loss.

“It was nice to get on the pitch again; I played a game last month as well so it was nice to get another cap and play again.

“I thought we played really well against Austria, so the result was disappointing.

“We had a really good shape about us and we were a bit unfortunate with the goals as the first goal was clearly offside. It is frustrating that the officials didn’t pick up on that,” he said.

New Manager Ian Baraclough has not had the results he would have desired, to date, but McGovern is enjoying working under the new man at the helm.

“He is good. He has not changed too much, with regards to the structure of things behind the scenes, from the previous Manager because obviously things were working well.

“There is a lot of continuity in the backroom staff and that is good from the players’ point of view, because players don’t like change.

“The fact over the last six years that there has been a lot of positivity in the Northern Ireland team, there’s no need to change things too much, and he has gone on record as saying that.”

The Enniskillen man is adamant, too, that if they can produce performances then the results will come.

“You have got to focus on performances first and foremost, and then the results will come.

“Ultimately, results is the thing that you have to get, and the thing that people look at, so we have to continue to try and perform well, and we have to believe that performances will turn into results,” he added.

And he stresses that the upcoming games, including last night’s meeting with Romania, are all about building towards a fast approaching World Cup qualifying campaign.

“The Manager spoke to us after the defeat to Slovakia and said that there is a really quick turnaround between now and the World Cup qualifying campaign.

“Basically, because of the [Covid] situation, it has been condensed between March and November so we are going to have an eight-month qualifying campaign, which is unusual.

“We can’t afford to dwell on things. These Nation’s League games against the likes of Austria and Romania are now preparation for the World Cup qualifiers,” he said.

The Nation’s League games are also an opportunity to blood some of the younger players coming through, and McGovern feels there is plenty of potential and quality there.

“It is easy after a defeat like the other night to be a bit doom and gloom about the future, but you see the likes of Ali McCann coming through, Daniel Ballard who is at Arsenal, Jamal Lewis coming through.

“You have Alfie McCalmont, there’s Ethan Galbraith at Manchester United, who has been training with us, and technically he is incredibly gifted.

“There are some players with potential coming through and hopefully they can show that potential with their clubs and then, in turn, perform for Northern Ireland and get us to more major tournaments in the future,” he added

From his own point of view, McGovern still relishes the chance to pull on that Northern Ireland jersey.

“I love playing for Northern Ireland; it has been the highlight of my career and is something I’m very proud of.

“I have 33 caps and I have had to be very patient at times. It is a great source of pride for me every time I play for Northern Ireland,” added the Norwich City player