The Scottish Mail on Sunday
MacPhee hopes he doesn’t have to pay his own way to party
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.’