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Bryan Hamilton: I am not bitter about IFA sacking anymore

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Former Northern Ireland manager Bryan Hamilton is sharing his extensive experience with aspiring young players

Former Northern Ireland manager Bryan Hamilton is sharing his extensive experience with aspiring young players

Former Northern Ireland manager Bryan Hamilton is sharing his extensive experience with aspiring young players

Bryan Hamilton is probably the most unappreciated manager Northern Ireland has ever had - but then following a legend is never an easy task.

When Hamilton was charged with the responsibility of bringing the glory days back to Northern Ireland football as the successor to Billy Bingham in 1994 it was akin to being handed a poison chalice.

How could anyone match the achievements of a man who led such a small country to successive World Cup finals? It’s a question that still hasn’t been answered more than two decades since Northern Ireland faced Brazil in Mexico 86.

The last two qualifying campaigns — Euro 2008 and for next month’s World Cup in South Africa — brought excitement to fans, but ultimately their dreams evaporated with Lawrie Sanchez and current boss Nigel Worthington failing to come as close to taking Northern Ireland to a major finals as Hamilton.

Yet two years after being within touching distance of the Euro 96 finals in England he was out of a job.

Contract not renewed, Hamilton was informed in a telephone call — maybe not ideal, but possibly the only way to deal with the situation given that he was at home in England when the decision was made.

At the time Hamilton claimed he’d been ‘stabbed in the back’ but almost 13 years on wounds have healed and he can look back with real satisfaction on his own achievements.

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“I’m not bitter about anything that happened in the past. It’s a long time ago and now I concentrate on the present and the future,” he said.

“They were fantastic days and on reflection I think there was great progress made and the job that we did was a good one.

“In the first campaign we were joint second in the group and only missed out on qualifying for Euro 96 in England through head-to-head record with the Republic of Ireland.

“Another point would have got us there.

“The Republic had a really strong side at the time and had just qualified for successive World Cups under Jack Charlton.

“In the second campaign we had two defeats to Ukraine, but we went to Germany and drew. We had one catastrophic result when we had to go to Zurich to play Albania in a nothing match, no crowd, no atmosphere and lost 1-0 in a game we should have won.

“Nobody else has managed to qualify for a major finals — although we’ve gone close — and I believe my results stand up to anyone else’s.”

While both Sanchez and Worthington have enjoyed big nights at Windsor Park, neither has managed to record a significant result away from home.

Hamilton’s record on his travels — and given that he took the team on tours to Canada, the USA and Thailand there was plenty of travelling done — stands up to scrutiny. If anything, it was home form that wrecked that Euro 96 campaign, after going unbeaten on the road.

“I don’t think we ever got the credit we deserved when we were so close to Euro 96. Maybe I was too close and maybe it was too important to me, but I look at the results and the fact that we went through a campaign unbeaten away from home,” said Hamilton.

“We won home and away against Austria, drew in Portugal and drew in Dublin, which were big results, but we didn’t have someone special, like a David Healy, to score game in game out.

“We’d been soundly beaten 4-0 at home by the Republic, who were the better side a few months before and the draw in Dublin was the best result of all because we had to recover from that — and also came from 1-0 down.

“We worked hard, but unfortunately the focus fell on results and it’s a pity that the first campaign was forgotten about.”

Had times been different, Hamilton believes two men could have helped him make the dream become a reality.

“When I see things now the fans — guys like Jim Rainey — have worked wonders on the terraces and we’ve a real passionate home support and how they help the team can’t be underestimated,” he said.

“Lawrie Sanchez did well, but he’d David Healy on fire in that one campaign, his 13 goals were fantastic.

“If we’d have had the same Windsor Park atmosphere and a red hot striker then I think it would have made a big difference and we could have done something special.”


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