Jimmy Nicholl leads tributes after long-serving NI kitman Derek McKinley dies

Derek's first match as kit attendant was a World Cup qualifier against Israel in 1981
Derek's first match as kit attendant was a World Cup qualifier against Israel in 1981

Former Northern Ireland international Jimmy Nicholl has paid tribute to long-serving international team kitman Derek McKinley, who has died.

The Irish FA announced on Friday that McKinley had passed away, aged 78.

He worked under six NI managers - Billy Bingham, Bryan Hamilton, Lawrie McMenemy, Sammy McIlroy, Lawrie Sanchez and Nigel Worthington - between 1981 and 2011.

"Derek was such good fun," said current NI assistant manager Nicholl.

"I was just talking about him at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Thursday night and had planned to phone him to see how he was.

"It was a shock when I heard the news and so, so sad."

Nicholl was either a player or on the coaching staff for many of the 230 games that McKinley was in the dugout for, and played at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups when he was the team attendant.

His first match was the World Cup qualifier against Israel in 1981 which Northern Ireland won to qualify for the World Cup in Spain, with his last game coming in a Euro qualifier away to Italy in October 2011.

"I remember Billy (Bingham) bringing him in and he was still there when I went back in as part of the coaching staff," added Nicholl.

"He was great around the squad and always got on very well with the players. I will remember him for the fun we had and have reminisced with him about that in recent years.

"But he was also very good at his job - you can't be a kitman for 30 years if you don't take great care of the kit, and Derek did that."

'Go-to person for generations of NI players'

Former NI internationals Sammy McIlroy and Norman Whiteside at Derek McKinley's tribute dinner
Former NI internationals Sammy McIlroy and Norman Whiteside with Derek at his tribute dinner in 2011

The IFA expressed its sadness at the former Portadown goalkeeper's passing.

"He operated for the Irish Football Association at two World Cups and he was the go-to person for generations of Northern Ireland players," the IFA said in a statement.

"Derek counted many of them, such as Martin O'Neill, Pat Jennings, Gerry Armstrong, Norman Whiteside and David Healy, as his friends."

In November 2011 a host of current and former Northern Ireland players, many of whom played at the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals, attended a tribute dinner to mark his retirement and three decades of service.

McKinley was also kit manager for the Ports, Lisburn Distillery, Glentoran and Knockbreda.

"A football enthusiast and perfectionist, he took great pride in ensuring that all his teams were immaculately turned out and all the required equipment was available and prepared," the IFA added.

"He will be sorely missed by all his friends in the Irish Football Association and the association wishes to send its sincere condolences to his family at this sad time."

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