Stretching yourself in a bid to grasp something that is considered just out of reach is an approach that gained Northern Ireland readmittance to elite competition in the summer.
And, having been part of that success story, Austin MacPhee found the prospect of juggling the new responsibility as Ian Cathro’s assistant manager at Hearts, with the ongoing role as Michael O’Neill’s number two, too good to turn down.
Offered that possibility, he grabbed it with both hands even if it did mean that he had to withdraw his interest in becoming the SFA Performance Director.
One of six men short-listed for the job of steering the development of the sport in this country, MacPhee is similar to Cathro in respect that both have taken unusual routes to the top. Having played in America, Romania and Japan his coaching career has had stop-offs in the Scottish amateur ranks, Cowdenbeath and St Mirren en route to the Mexico national team and then Northern Ireland,
“The magnitude of the job of technical director or performance for a federation is a very, very long-term project,” he said. “I felt that the combination of being allowed stay with Northern Ireland and work for someone who I really respect in Ian was one that took me to the path I find more exciting.
“I was at Tynecastle last week at the Rangers game. You see the direction Hearts is going. I feel we can achieve things that maybe other people don’t think we can achieve. Always having ambitions that are maybe just a little bit further than you can reach is important. This whole club has that, whether it is Ann [Budge], Craig [Levein] or certainly Ian. I just felt it was a journey I didn’t want to miss out on.
“Also, with Northern Ireland, I felt a great loyalty to Michael O’Neill. He has given me the opportunity to be acceptable in football, although I’ve still not cut my hair. And we are currently second in our group.
“There are targets at Hearts – which I know Ian and I have – and there is a target at Northern Ireland, which is obviously qualifying for the World Cup. It would be a lot to miss out on as a young coach.”
While Northern Ireland are the underdogs on the world stage, with Hearts MacPhee sees the chance to be a more dominant force.
“Another great appeal about Hearts is they have a budget greater than most teams in the league, whereas with Northern Ireland we have players playing at a lower level than most teams we play against,” he said. “This means being involved in a different way of football. It can be aggressive, offensive and exciting. It can be dominant and hopefully make people stand up. That is another big appeal. We will be on the front foot.”