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Wednesday 10 Feb 2016
Pat Jennings - Don't Have Any Regrets When The Tournament Is Over

The Northern Ireland goalkeeping great’s son, Patrick Jr, was on the books at Shamrock Rovers when Michael managed the Dublin-based outfit to League of Ireland glory back in 2010, a feat he repeated the following season as well.

“My son was impressed with Michael. He told me all about how methodical he was and the things he did to motivate the team. I liked what I heard,” said Pat.

“It’s great that Michael has continued with his methods and that Northern Ireland have qualified for the European Championship finals in France this summer,” he added.

Pat, who won a record 119 caps and played in two World Cups for his country, is urging the current crop of players to fully embrace the experience of taking part in a major tournament.

“My advice would be to go and enjoy it, and don’t have any regrets when the tournament is over. You have to give it all you’ve got,” he said.

Pat thought playing in a major tournament had passed him by when he had reached his mid-30s.

The famous keeper made his debut against Wales – at the Vetch Field in Swansea – on the same night George Best made his international bow. That was in 1964.

He admits to being relieved all those years later when Northern Ireland secured qualification to the World Cup finals for a second time.

But he had an anxious wait to see if he would even make the plane for Spain ‘82.

He tore a groin in a league game just after Northern Ireland sealed qualification with a 1-0 win against Israel at Windsor Park in November 1981.

He was out for three months and only played a few games in the second half of that season for Arsenal.

After playing half a game against Wales in a friendly in May he was given an ultimatum by Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham, who told him he had a month to get fit.

And, thankfully for Pat, that proved to be sufficient time for him to get in shape for the first game in Spain.

Having just turned 37 a few days earlier, he kept a clean sheet in that encounter against Yugoslavia, which ended 0-0. The next game, which pundits had predicted would be a banker for the boys in green, proved to be more difficult. Northern Ireland managed a 1-1 draw against Honduras but Pat had to produce some excellent stops to help seal a point.

Then came the game against the host nation which for many was the highlight of that World Cup.

“We weren’t expecting to get anything out of the Spain game. Most of the lads had packed to go home,” he revealed.

Pat says taking part in two World Cups was “unbelievable” but the clash against the Spanish was “just incredible”.

“When we were driving into the stadium (in Valencia) people were hanging out of apartments, there were lots of lights and there were people everywhere. And it turned out to be a magic night. To beat the host nation in their own backyard was incredible.”

After that famous 1-0 victory Pat sat out the first game of the second group phase, against Austria, but was restored to the starting line-up to face France. Northern Ireland lost that game 4-1 but Pat firmly believes if a “great goal” from Martin O’Neill when the game was scoreless had stood - rather than be wrongly ruled offside - then the end result could have been very different. “We did not score many goals but we were very good at defending a lead,” he pointed out.

A second appearance at a World Cup finals was not even on the goalie’s radar when he left Arsenal in 1985.

On departing from the Gunners, for whom he had made over 300 appearances between 1977 and 1985, he was offered a contract by Sunderland but turned it down because he was contemplating calling it a day.

He was actually back home in Northern Ireland on his summer hols when Tottenham came calling. Pat, who had previously made over 470 appearances for Spurs between 1964 and 1977, agreed to become their back-up keeper once Billy Bingham said he would continue to consider him for the international team if he took on the role.

Playing for Spurs’ reserves kept him sharp as he went on to star for Northern Ireland in the three qualifiers which eventually saw his country earn a place at Mexico ’86. And he enjoyed three clean sheets to boot.

There was a 0-0 away draw against Turkey in September 1985 and a 1-0 away win against Romania the following month.

And then came the famous shutout when a 0-0 draw against England was enough to send Northern Ireland to the World Cup finals. “It was a special night at Wembley. It was an absolute dream,” he said.

Pat had always wanted to bow out at the top – and he did so thanks to his second appearance at a World Cup finals.

There was to be no clean sheet in Mexico, however. A 1-1 draw against Algeria was followed by a 2-1 defeat against Spain and Pat’s last game in a Northern Ireland shirt, on his 41st birthday, was against World Cup masters Brazil. The game ended 3-0 with the Brazilians scoring a wonder goal along the way – a 30-yard belter from Josimar. “Even if I had had wings I would not have got to it,” said Pat.

“I had always admired Brazil and I could not have asked for anything better than to have played against them at a World Cup,” he added.