‘He just loves football, he lives and breathes it’

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Morecambe FC are currently just two points off the relegation spots in League Two. After their move to the new Globe Arena and an extended settling in period, the side are trying to turn things around. “There have been some teething issues obviously, we didn’t get there until we played in the League Cup against Coventry so we didn’t have any preparation at all in the stadium and I think that set us back a little bit” McIlroy said. “I’ve been here for five years and it’s been a fantastic five years at Christie Park. A lot of teams didn’t relish going there, it had its own atmosphere and we had a really great run there over the years. It is progress though, Christie Park’s gone now, we’ve had great memories of the place but we’ve got to make Globe the same now.

McIlroy went on to explain why the stadium move could have affected the players mentally. “[The players] were a little bit taken aback when we first went there, it was like going to an away stadium. The more we play there, the more they’re getting the hang of it, they like the surroundings and the newness of it. It’s taken a little bit of time, but we’re getting there.”

Morecambe are currently two points away from relegation, with just four wins so far this season. However, the league is currently very close, as McIlroy explained. “The league is so tight, we’re six points off of relegation but we’re also something like five or six points off a play-off place, so it’s frighteningly tight. We’ve just got to be consistent, we’ve got to try and win games and go on a run that we’re capable of and move up that league, I’m sure it’ll come.”

Despite the 2-0 win against Coventry in the first match at the Globe Arena, Morecambe are out of all the cup competitions before Christmas. “Obviously everyone loves a cup run, whether it’s the League Cup or FA Cup because of the publicity and also the money it can bring into the club, but unfortunately we’re out. We’ve just got to concentrate on the league, which is our main competition. We’ve got no distraction about who we’re playing in the cup, we’ve just got to concentrate on the league and take it from there.”

Does McIlroy see his club pushing for the play-offs, like they did last season? “I know we can but we’ve got to be consistent, we’ve got to go on a run and if we can do that I’m sure we can get there. We had a great run last year to get into the play-offs and we’re capable of doing that again, but there are just one or two little things, like consistency.”

McIlroy of course had a distinguished career as a player before embarking on his managerial career; he was technically one of the last of the Busby Babes at Manchester United, earned 88 caps for Northern Ireland, and captained his country at a World Cup. Aged just seventeen, some members of the press had dubbed him ‘the new George Best’ before the Manchester Derby.

“I didn’t know until eleven in the morning that I was playing in that game,” he said. “I was obviously nervous but the players around me; Bobby Charlton, George Best, Brian Kidd, Willie Morgan, they all calmed me down so there was no problem. They just told me to go out and play and everything went well on the day. It was a fantastic game, probably one of the best derbies for years, six goals in it, and it was a great experience for me.”

While at United, McIlroy played under several managers in a fairly long period of transition for the club, experiencing both relegation and promotion. “Getting relegated from the First Division into the Second Division, that was a big blow for the club. But we bounced back, Tommy Docherty turned it all around and we had three fantastic years under him. The relegation was a massive blow though.”

Having played for the club, McIlroy is well placed to comment on how United might do this season. He said: “They’ll be there or thereabouts with the squad that Sir Alex Ferguson has got. They’re the team to beat, them and Chelsea. I think whoever finishes above either one of them will do it.”

Ferguson has mentioned retirement in the press over the past couple of days, saying that he is “too old to retire”. The debate is naturally opening up over who might replace him when the time does come to step aside. “It’s going to be a very, very hard job for whoever takes over from Sir Alex Ferguson with his record,” McIlroy said. “Everyone wondered who would take over from Sir Matt Busby, a lot of people tried it and didn’t succeed, but whoever’s going to take over from Sir Alex needs a bit of luck. Who knows, he’s coming up to 69 now. He just loves football, he lives and breathes it. If his health’s right I’m sure he’ll keep going.”

McIlroy was lucky enough during his playing career to captain his country at the World Cup, in 1986. “It was fantastic in the World Cup, from 1980 to 1986 we had a fantastic run with great team spirit which got us to two World Cups and we won a British Championship as well. They were a great set of boys and we had great times. The two World Cups, in Spain and Mexico, were fantastic.”

“It was the highlight of my career to manage my country, even though it was in troubled circumstances rebuilding the side. The first two years were fantastic. The last year was obviously very difficult with a lot of my players retiring, but it was a great experience for me and I look back on it with happy memories.”

With the greatest respect for Morecambe, would McIlroy ever go back and manage the Northern Ireland national team if he was asked? “Yeah, there’s no doubt about that. I’m more prepared now for anything like that. If there was one thing I’d love to do again, it would be to manage my country.”

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