Scot says Northern Ireland can make their mark in France

Northern Ireland coach Austin MacPhee.
Northern Ireland coach Austin MacPhee.

As one of the very few Scots with any competitive interest in Euro 2016, Austin MacPhee is determined to make an impression.

Based in Cupar, Fife, MacPhee is also part of the Northern Ireland coaching set up and a key member of Michael O’Neill’s backroom staff.

Totally unfancied to achieve much in the tournament by many, MacPhee says Northern Ireland, unbeaten in 12 games going into the championships, are capable of springing a few surprises.

Apart from a team of match officials, led by Willie Collum, the rest of Scotland will watch the tournament with our noses pressed against the glass.

Much is made about how the Scots have no star players to help push us to major events.

But that didn’t stop the Northern Irish romping to the Euros.

MacPhee has played a pivotal part in that.

His hard work and opponent preparation helped guide Northern Ireland to a deserved place in France.

MacPhee said: “Things have been meticulously planned and, in terms of our preparation, we are definitely ahead of schedule.

“We spent one week in Manchester training at Manchester City’s training ground which was a conditioning camp.

“We then moved onto Dublin where the whole squad began the tactical work for one week before heading out to Austria where we increased the training load after our 3-0 victory over Belarus in Belfast.

“We travelled to Trvana to play Slovakia at the end of the Austria training camp where we drew 0-0 taking our unbeaten run to 12 games, the longest of any team at the European Championships.”

The side is based just outside Lyon and since arriving across the Channel has been totally focused on its three group opponents.

You could hardly have handpicked a tougher group, with Poland, Ukraine and Germany plucked out the hat along with Northern Ireland.

Typically, regardless of the standard of opponent, the preprartion remains meticulous.

“Since arriving in France, training in terms of physical intensity has been decreasing as we lead up to the first game and increasing in terms of the tactical plan we hope to execute against Poland. How the team is in terms of it’s shape has always been a vital part of our success and getting the players absolute clarity is the aim of the coaching staff – taking away any grey areas is vital.

“The base is fantastic in the small town Saint Georges de Reneins where we are staying in a Chateau and using the training ground of the local Club.”

Here’s how Austin, who set up his own football organisation in Fife called AMsoccer, rates his group opponents.

Poland – “Very dependent on their star striker Lewandowski, although their playmaker Krychowiak is also a vital cog in the wheel and played in the Europa League Final for Seville.”

Ukraine – “Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka are exciting wide players but they don’t possess the central threat of Muller or Lewandowski, it will be a case of horses for courses in terms of system and strategy.”

Germany – “Will be a massive game for us and hopefully we will be going into it with confidence from the previous two games and looking forward to the round of 16.”

Northern Ireland play Poland on Sunday.