World Cup hero Jimmy Nicholl's arrival a boost for Northern Ireland
Michael O'Neill has revealed that Northern Ireland World Cup hero Jimmy Nicholl agreed to miss out on one of the biggest games of the season for his club Cowdenbeath in order to join the national team's quest to reach the Euro 2016 finals.
In a surprise but potentially inspirational move, Nicholl has been appointed as O'Neill's assistant manager until the end of the Euro campaign and will take up the post with the support of the Scottish Championship outfit, even though they will have to do without their boss for a key upcoming fixture.
Cowdenbeath, involved in a relegation battle, face Nicholl's old club Rangers in a vital league game on Saturday week, but the 59-year-old won't be at Ibrox because he'll be in Belfast helping prepare the Northern Ireland players for their crucial Euro qualifier against Finland a day later.
Nicholl, however, will be in charge of Cowdenbeath when they face Falkirk next Tuesday, 24 hours prior to Northern Ireland's friendly at Hampden against Scotland.
“Before our friendly with Scotland, Jimmy will take Cowdenbeath’s match on the Tuesday night, but he’ll miss their game with Rangers,” explained O’Neill.
“The Cowdenbeath chairman Donald Findlay was very accommodating regarding that. He understood Jimmy’s desire to be involved with Northern Ireland and didn’t want one game to be a stumbling block. Jimmy is committed to doing all he can to help us qualify for the Euro finals.”
Nicholl, who won 73 caps, will join Motherwell assistant boss Stephen Robinson in O’Neill’s backroom team. IFA Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton had been part of the coaching staff after Billy McKinlay left the set-up last year.
Having Nicholl’s experience on board for the remainder of the Euro campaign could prove a shrewd move from O’Neill.
The former Manchester United ace was an influential defender when Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cups in 1982 and 1986 and he assisted the legendary Billy Bingham in his final years as boss.
Born in Canada, but brought up a proud Belfast man, Nicholl was expected to take charge of Northern Ireland on two occasions only for the IFA to opt for Bryan Hamilton and Lawrie Sanchez instead.
O’Neill, who with four games gone has guided Northern Ireland to second place in Group F in the Euro campaign, said that he considered appointing Nicholl when he first took over as boss.
“Needing someone now, almost halfway through a campaign, I think it is important to bring in a person who’ll be comfortable around the players straight away,” said O’Neill.
“That’s one of Jimmy’s biggest assets. He has good people skills. The players will respond to him.”
Nicholl said: “Having played in two World Cups for Northern Ireland nothing would thrill me more than to be part of the squad to qualify for another major tournament. I’m delighted Michael and the IFA have seen fit to place such trust in me.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s Shane Ferguson, on loan at Rangers but yet to play a game for them, and Kilmarnock’s Sammy Clingan are out of the Scotland and Finland games due to injury.
Burnley’s Daniel Lafferty, on loan at Rotherham, and Paul Paton (Dundee United) have been called into the squad.