Former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll admitted he “jumped at the chance” to return to the Irish Premier League by signing for Dungannon Swifts.

The 43-year-old made his debut for his new club on Tuesday night against Ballymena United, making a starring contribution as the team kept a clean sheet for the first time in six games on their way to ending Ballymena’s seven-game winning run.

Roy’s long and illustrious playing career looked to have come to an end when he left Linfield after a bad injury. That prompted him to set up his goalkeeping school as he passed on his experiences to the next generation, but with youth football decimated by Covid restrictions, Roy was left searching for a football fix.

‘Never say never in football’

“For me, personally, if my goalkeeping school was still going ahead then I probably wouldn’t have been coming back to play, but you never say never in football,” he admitted.

“Myself, I was finding it mentally tough.

“I was doing a lot of Zoom online sessions with the young keepers and I was talking to the kids, and that was keeping me active, but at the end of the week there was nothing there to do.

“I sat down with my wife and we were speaking about looking for other options to keep myself active, and decided on coming back to the Irish League.

“You know the way in Northern Ireland, rumours start spreading quite quickly, and Dungannon and Kris [Lindsay] got in touch with me to see if I would be interested, and I jumped at the chance.

“Things happen for a reason and I can now try to give my knowledge to the young players at Dungannon.

“It is a great little club with great people around the area, and it would be nice if they can get a few points between now and the end of the season and get them up the table.”

Roy leapt straight into the starting 11 for his first game, and he admits he is hoping to start as much as possible for the remainder of the season.

“I will be pushing as much as I can to start games,” he acknowledged.

‘Pushing to play’

“That is what the aim is, to play football. No matter who you are, you want to be playing in that first 11, and of course I will be pushing to play, but it’s down to the coaching staff and the Manager who makes that decision.

“They have two very young keepers, and they are great guys, and I would like to help them develop further in the game, hopefully.”

In addition to the existing keepers in the squad, Roy has joined several former Mallards, including Ryan Mayse and Matty Smyth, and he feels he has settled quickly into his new environment.

“I trained with them on Saturday and it was a good bunch of lads, and there are a few ex-Ballinamallard lads up there as well, and I know them,” he said.

“For me, it’s about keeping my mind active and going out training again, which I love.

“It’s hard for people below the Irish league who can’t get out and play, and I understand that because I have been through that over the last year. It’s difficult for everyone but I have been lucky that I have an opportunity to get out and play football again.

“It’s nice to get back and I do have a few butterflies in my stomach, which is good to have. ”

Roy has signed a contract through to the end of the season with Swifts, but he is not ruling out an extended spell in the top flight once his current deal comes to an end.

“You don’t know what is around the corner,” he said. “I always tell people to enjoy it for as long as you can. I had that bad injury, which was disappointing, otherwise I might have stayed on at Linfield, but I thought my time was up.

“I did a lot of interviews saying I wouldn’t be back, but I’m never going to say that again! You never know what might happen.

“The numbers of my age are getting higher all the time, and I have to look after my body and look after myself, but I will try to keep myself in top form and hopefully continue to get picked at Dungannon,” he said.