Lawrie McMenemy: I wish I'd done more for Northern Ireland fans
Lawrie McMenemy has admitted that he wishes he had brought Northern Ireland's passionate supporters more success when he was in charge of the country.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the 79-year-old insisted he took full responsibility for the nation's failings over a two-year period that promised much, but ultimately delivered little.
The former Southampton and Sunderland boss, who was Graham Taylor's number two with England, was appointed Northern Ireland manager in 1998 amid a wave of publicity with Joe Jordan and Pat Jennings recruited to make up an experienced backroom staff.
Labelled the 'Dream Team', Northern Ireland fans were hoping for big things after a number of false dawns under Bryan Hamilton.
It started well enough with McMenemy's side, captained by Steve Lomas, winning their first two friendlies at home to Slovakia and Switzerland respectively, but once the qualifiers for Euro 2000 began that was when the cracks started to show.
By the end of the campaign, Northern Ireland had finished fourth in a five team group, above Moldova, with just one win from eight matches as Germany, Turkey and Finland ended up ahead of them in the table.
It was desperately disappointing, especially given that McMenemy had Premier League players such as Neil Lennon, Michael Hughes, Keith Gillespie, Iain Dowie and Lomas at his disposal.
Almost two decades on, to his credit McMenemy, who has released his autobiography 'A Lifetime's Obsession', (below)took the blame for the failings.
"I wish as a group that we could have done better. What always disappointed me was that we weren't able to do more for the passionate Northern Ireland supporters," said McMenemy.
"When I got the job I brought a strong backroom staff with me. We had Pat Jennings, who is such a big hero in Northern Ireland and so well regarded throughout football, Joe Jordan who was a good worker and Chris Nicholl, great for me at Southampton and fantastic for Northern Ireland, was in charge of the under-21 set-up.
"The three of them were top class and experienced in international football and I couldn't have a got a better group of lads beside me.
"We probably didn't have enough quality players at that time, but as manager you have to blame yourself for not doing as well as we had hoped.
"It was very, very disappointing because I really did want to bring the fans success. That's why I'm so pleased that they have got it now. I know when Northern Ireland go to France this year for the Euro 2016 finals they will take fantastic support with them.
"But from my time I hold my hands up that I didn't succeed with Northern Ireland. As the number one I would always take full responsibility."
Put to him that some modern day managers, who tend to blame everything but themselves for defeats, could learn from that honest attitude, McMenemy replied: "There is enough flannel talked in football nowadays. Sometimes as a manager you have to look in the mirror."
McMenemy tries to keep tabs on all the players that worked for him, including the Northern Ireland boys.
He says: "I know some of them are still in the public eye, either managing or doing media work and I see Neil Lennon has been linked with going back to Celtic. If any of the Northern Ireland lads phoned me for anything I would always try and help them."
A current Northern Ireland player he rates highly is captain Steven Davis.
McMenemy said: "I still go to Southampton games and like to watch Steven Davis. He is a good steadying influence. The Southampton team is certainly a lot better when he is in it rather than when he is not.
"He is not bothered about being the player everyone talks about. He just gets on with the job. I think he is a really important player for Southampton.
"Northern Ireland have got a good one there. I'm sure he is a well respected captain for his country who leads by example. He will be influential in the Euro tournament."