EURO 2016 QUALIFIERS: Jimmy Nicholl confident players can become ‘national heroes’ and qualify for finals

Northern Ireland assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl
Northern Ireland assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl

Northern Ireland assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl wants the current generation to become “national heroes” by emulating the class of 1986.

Nicholl was part of the side that went to the World Cup in Mexico nearly 30 years ago and he also played in the previous tournament in Spain.

But Northern Ireland have been on the outside looking in ever since, with five successive managers failing to emulate the achievements of Billy Bingham.

Michael O’Neill is on the verge of ending that sequence, with three points against Greece on Thursday enough to guarantee a spot at Euro 2016.

And Nicholl, who was recruited as right-hand man in March, is eager to see new icons emerge.

“It’s massive for the whole country, 30 years since we’ve been in this position,” he said.

“Both times we were at the World Cup it was such an achievement for us to be there on that stage.

“We were a group of lads who knew we had a chance of achieving something remarkable for Northern Ireland, something that hadn’t been achieved since 1958.

“We followed in the footsteps of great players like Danny Blanchflower, Jimmy McIlroy, Harry Gregg and now I want these lads to follow in our footsteps.

“I’m proud and privileged to be part of it but this is their moment and their time.

“They’d be national heroes. It’s a new generation... kids who came with their fathers to see us are bringing their own kids now.

“There’s people who come and watch Northern Ireland who’ve never seen them at a tournament, I hope that changes next summer and I’m sure it will.”