Former Northern Ireland midfielder Bernard McNally, who recently stepped down as manager of Newtown AFC, spoke to UEFA.com about the rise of Welsh football.
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The Welsh Premier League recently bid farewell to one of its most popular figures as Bernard McNally, a member of Northern Ireland's 1986 FIFA World Cup squad, stepped down as manager of Newtown AFC.
McNally, 50, signed off after two and a half years at the mid-Wales club with a 2-0 victory against Port Talbot Town FC on 2 November. Newtown will now continue their push for a UEFA Europa League spot under new boss Chris Hughes, while McNally returns to one of his old sides Shrewsbury Town FC as head of youth coaching.
"It's great to be back in the professional game," McNally told UEFA.com. "I'm really looking forward to working with a vastly experienced manager in Graham Turner and the challenge of developing young players. Hopefully we can unearth one or two gems along the way."
When the former midfielder arrived at Newtown in June 2011, he "didn't know what to expect" and encountered a tough first season which proved "a steep learning curve for myself and the young players". "However, we made good progress as a club and it has been a fantastic experience for me as both a manager and a person. I have made some very good friends and I believe the Welsh Premier League is improving and making progress every year."
McNally made almost 300 English league appearances for Shrewsbury between 1980 and 1989. During that time, he gained international recognition with Northern Ireland and a coveted spot in Billy Bingham's World Cup squad at Mexico '86. "It was a fantastic experience but I don't think you can really fully appreciate it until you look back and realise the magnitude of it all," he said.
"It was obviously disappointing not to feature in any of the games, but we had a tremendously talented squad with players like Norman Whiteside, Mal Donaghy and Sammy McIlroy," he added. "But just to be a part of it, and to see us play against a Brazil team with players like Socrates and Zico, it was tremendous."
Since retiring as a player, McNally has coached in India, Romania, England and Wales, but his contribution to the Welsh Premier League and Newtown will be fondly remembered. Indeed, he is one of just three veterans of a World Cup finals squad to have been involved in the Welsh top flight, alongside ex-Scotland duo Graeme Sharp (1986) and George Wood (1982).
"I didn't realise that!" said McNally, upon learning of his place in such rarefied company. "Well, that is nice to know." And for the Welsh Premier League, it has been very nice to know Bernard McNally.