Steve Harper is excited by the potential of Northern Ireland’s goalkeepers after getting his first taste of his new coaching role.
The 44-year-old former Newcastle, Hull and Sunderland stopper was named as goalkeeping coach last week, replacing Maik Taylor, and worked with the squad for the first time on Monday and Tuesday ahead of this week’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against Estonia and Belarus.
There are concerns that of the three goalkeepers in Michael O’Neill’s squad – Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Conor Hazard and Michael McGovern – only Hazard is getting a regular game at present, playing for Partick Thistle on loan from Celtic.
But Harper was happy with what he has seen already this week.
“I’ve been impressed with them,” he said. “We’ve had two really long days, given the intensity in a short period of time. We got a good work day in yesterday and then went up early this morning, started early and got a really good session in today as well.
“I had a good look at them. Michael had an incredible time with his country in the Euros and there are two outstanding young goalkeepers.”
Harper has taken on the Northern Ireland job alongside his role as the under-23 goalkeeping coach at Newcastle.
Though he has done his coaching badges through the Irish Football Association, he revealed the job offer with the national team came following a chance meeting with O’Neill at a match earlier in the year.
Steve Harper has spoken of his delight after he was appointed as the new goalkeeping coach for the@NorthernIrelandnational team this week – but says he remains committed to his role as Lead Academy Goalkeeping Coach at Newcastle United.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC)March 12, 2019
“I got sat next to the manager at a Newcastle game the best part of two months ago,” he said. “We were just chatting football, talking about Newcastle and Northern Ireland, just general football chat.
“Nothing was mentioned about any roles or anything like that, it was just common people we knew… That was it.
“Then I just got a call and he said would I be interested in meeting and having a chat.”
Harper, who spent 20 years with Newcastle from 1993 to 2013 before later spells with Hull and Sunderland, admitted he may come from the old school of goalkeeping but he knows O’Neill wants his stoppers to be more involved with play.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland)March 18, 2019
“Certainly back in my time you’d go and stand in the corner and catch a few balls and when we need you we’ll get you,” Harper said. “But the role is changing. From being the last line of defence, you’re very much the first line of attack.
“It’s great how the role has evolved, you’re certainly more involved in team play. Not just as a defensive unit but when you stand there you know how the team should look so certainly having an input is beneficial to everybody.”