The Scottish Mail on Sunday

MacPhee hopes he doesn’t have to pay his own way to party

- By Graeme Croser

AUSTIN MacPHEE once drove an old Re­nault 5 to the south of France to watch Scot­land play at the World Cup. Next sum­mer, he hopes to re­visit foot­ball’s great­est stage in Rus­sia and this time he won’t have to make his own way there.

In tan­dem with his prin­ci­pal job as Hearts as­sis­tant man­ager, MacPhee op­er­ates as an in­te­gral part of Michael O’Neill’s back­room staff with North­ern Ire­land and, af­ter qual­i­fy­ing for Euro 2016, they are in the hunt for a place at next sum­mer’s tour­na­ment.

‘I drove to France 98 with a mate,’ re­called MacPhee, who was in the dugout as the North­ern Ir­ish won 1-0 in Azer­bai­jan last night.

‘We had fin­ished school in Cu­par and I was at For­far part-time. We only had tick­ets for the Morocco game in St Eti­enne but we stopped off in Paris and Bordeaux for the Brazil and Nor­way games, too.

‘To think I would be part of a big tour­na­ment one day, sat in the dugout as I was at Euro 2016, un­real.’

MacPhee has en­joyed the in­ten­sity of his role work­ing along­side Ian Cathro at Tynecas­tle over the past six months but, amidst the prepa­ra­tions for the qual­i­fier in Baku, he ad­mit­ted he was happy to have sac­ri­ficed any prospect of a hol­i­day.

‘It’s a big com­mit­ment but it’s one I’m glad to make given all the ex­pe­ri­ence I’m gain­ing,’ added the 37-yearold. ‘I’ve been at Hearts for a few months but I feel as if I know the North­ern Ir­ish boys bet­ter be­cause we spend the whole day to­gether.

‘You have your meals to­gether and are around the team ho­tel. That helps cre­ate a re­la­tion­ship and un­der­stand­ing which, when you are in the s**t, counts for some­thing.

‘It takes a while to get that at a club. Firstly be­cause you are em­ploy­ing them and it’s your rules.

‘In in­ter­na­tional foot­ball, play­ers are con­stantly mak­ing a choice to be there.’

Ini­tially em­ployed as an an­a­lyst, MacPhee’s role with North­ern Ire­land has grown to the point where he now has coach­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity along­side O’Neill and Jimmy Ni­choll.

A can­di­date for the SFA’s per­for­mance di­rec­tor role be­fore the ap­point­ment of Malky Mackay, he cred­its O’Neill for pro­vid­ing guid­ance at all stages of their three-year as­so­ci­a­tion.

‘Michael man­ages peo­ple ex­tremely well, he has a real way of help­ing you grow as a per­son,’ he noted. ‘Michael sees this as ev­ery­body’s sec­ond job and is al­ways there to help.

‘When I went for the per­for­mance di­rec­tor’s job at the SFA he gave me ad­vice on the in­ter­view. When I de­cided to go to Hearts he was there for me again.

‘I some­times feel like the story of what he has achieved hasn’t been told.

‘If we could qual­ify again, es­pe­cially for a World Cup, it would be un­be­liev­able.’

De­spite their lim­i­ta­tions, North­ern Ire­land made it to the last 16 of last year’s Eu­ros.

‘I am the only nonNorth­ern Ir­ish mem­ber of staff,’ added MacPhee.

‘I’m sure it meant just a wee bit more to them. We had 20,000 fans at the Ti­tanic Quar­ter and all the peo­ple at the games.

‘I would love to do it with Scot­land some day. I can imag­ine what it would mean to peo­ple.’

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