Jimmy Nicholl hoping Northern Ireland can rewrite footballing history books

Jimmy Nicholl graced two World Cups with Northern Ireland
Jimmy Nicholl graced two World Cups with Northern Ireland

Jimmy Nicholl is confident Northern Ireland can end 30 years of hurt by qualifying for next summer’s Euro Finals.

Nicholl – who was named as Michael O’Neill’s new number two on Wednesday – played in two World Cups during the 1980’s.

The former defender starred at Spain ‘82 and Mexico ‘86, earning the last of his 73 caps in a 3-0 defeat to Brazil in Guadalajara.

Mexico – 29 long years ago – was the last time Northern Ireland ever graced a major Finals.

They have never qualified for a European Championship in their entire history.

But that depressing statistic could change in the months ahead.

Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland have won three out of four opening Euro 2016 qualifiers to sit second in Group F.

Fans are already dreaming of next summer’s showpiece in France, with legend Nicholl also relishing the prospect of ending 30 years of hurt.

And the 58-year-old is confident O’Neill’s squad can finally realise that dream.

“Michael has done a fantastic job, and the belief is there that we can qualify,” Nicholl said.

“I am in the strange situation of being drafted in when the team is doing well. Usually it is when things are going wrong that someone new comes in.

“It is a privilege to come in and help Michael out. They have enjoyed a great start to the Euro campaign and hopefully they can continue that.

“As a player, you sometimes get the feeling that this could be your time, and that seems to be the case with Michael’s squad. The tide seems to be turning.

“It has been a long time since Mexico ‘86. Almost 30 years. People keep talking about those two World Cups, but it would be great if they could have something else to talk about. It would be great for fans to have their own special memories, and hopefully Euro 2016 can be that.”

Nicholl believes the incentive of qualifying for a major tournament should inspire the current Northern Ireland squad.

“I remember when we made it to Spain and Mexico, it was an amazing feeling,” the former Manchester United and Rangers defender said.

“For a player, that is the pinnacle. It would mean the world to this bunch of players if they qualified for next summer’s European Championship. They would be part of Northern Ireland’s football history. They would go down in folklore.

“But we can’t get too carried away. There is still a long way to go and a lot of tough games coming up.

“Thankfully most of the games are at Windsor Park. The crowd can hopefully lift us to the qualification spots.

“It would mean a lot to everyone – Michael, the players, the fans. And I would be over the moon.”