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David Healy: 'It really wouldn't matter if I won three European Cups in a row... I'd still do the school run'

 

By Steven Beacom

The NI football legend had a rocky start to management at Windsor Park, but after leading the Blues to the Irish League and Cup and Co Antrim Shield, he says life has never been better following his move back from England.

Two days on from leading Linfield to Irish Cup glory and completing a treble in his first season in management, David Healy was back doing the school run.

As a legendary goalscorer for Northern Ireland against England, Spain and many others, there was a down to earth quality about the man labelled 'King David' by the Green and White Army and he won't be changing now just because he's won three trophies as a boss and landed the Manager of the Year prize.

The 37-year-old will tell you his Killyleagh upbringing will see to that.

"It wouldn't matter if I won three European Cups in a row, I'd still do the school run!" joked Healy, as he opened up about the impact of the job on his family, the verbal abuse he suffered in the early days as Linfield boss, the emotion of seeing his overjoyed dad Clifford celebrating Irish League success, and why he is loving living in his home country again.

Up until taking charge of his boyhood club Linfield in October 2015 Healy had been lauded as a Northern Ireland sporting icon by all.

There was a time in the mid-2000s when the former Manchester United and Rangers striker was so revered, he was like Rory McIlroy and Carl Frampton rolled into one.

Once in the Blues hotseat, however, opposition supporters were shouting insults in his direction and even his own fans turned on him on occasion when results weren't up to scratch.

Healy admits those times were tough.

"Without wanting to sound big headed, because I'm not like that, I was a high-profile ex-Northern Ireland player coming back to manage the biggest club in the country, so there was always going to be some sort of reaction, be it positive or negative," said David, husband to English-born Emma and dad to daughters Taylor (16) and toddler Tallulah and football-mad son Jude (12).

"I'm not going to lie about it, the early days were tough for me and my family when I was getting shouted at by fans and people were continually asking if I knew enough about the Irish League, questioning if I had the experience and talking about whether I had the ability to manage Linfield," he explained.

"When the opportunity came up, it felt like the right thing for me to do. I wanted to manage Linfield. I felt proud and privileged to be given the job and I still feel that way today.

"We may have won the Irish League, Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield this season, but I don't feel I have made it as a manager now because of that success. I will strive to make myself a better manager and do everything I can to keep Linfield winning trophies.

"I also know that if in six months we are not top of the league and we are out of one of the cup competitions, then the issues begin again, because that is the process at Linfield. It's always been that way. David Jeffrey and Roy Coyle were the most successful managers in the club's history, yet they still faced sticky questions and criticism of their management styles."

Healy says that the first person to tell him managing Linfield would bring huge pressure and strain was his dad - a lifelong Blueman.

Northern Ireland's record goalscorer recalled: "When the job came up my dad spoke to me and warned me about how demanding the Linfield fans were, because he was one!

"It was a very honest conversation with my dad. He said that there would be times when the supporters would be shouting at me and cursing at me. He was trying to look after me, which I appreciated.

"That is what the demands are like at Linfield. The desire amongst the fans to succeed is incredible and if you want to manage this great club you have to understand that."

Healy is not a man who lets his guard down easily, but he admitted to feeling emotional when seeing his father after Linfield won the league title last month for the first time in five years with a 3-1 victory over Cliftonville at Solitude.

"I was chuffed to bits when I saw my dad at Solitude when we won the title. He was probably the happiest man out of the 850 Linfield supporters who were there," said Healy.

"I wouldn't be the most emotional of people, but, yes, it was emotional seeing my dad look so happy. That meant the world to me because he and mum (Irene) have been with me every step of the way. They have supported me, from going over to Manchester United and playing in England and Scotland, to playing for Northern Ireland and now being back home managing Linfield.

"After we won the title I watched the game from Solitude and the scenes at Windsor celebrating with our fans back on television, and when you see someone like our captain Jamie Mulgrew, who has spent his life at Linfield, with tears in his eyes, he nearly had me in tears because I knew how much it meant to him and the rest of the lads.

"Lifting the Irish Cup and again watching it back on TV I got a lump in my throat thinking I'm so proud to be manager of this club and these players, who delivered so brilliantly.

"So, yes, even for me who maybe finds it hard to show it, the last few weeks have been emotional and hugely enjoyable."

From being a teenager joining United to retiring as a player 20 years later, Healy lived in England and Scotland. It was a big step to move to Northern Ireland with Emma and the children a couple of years ago, but happily it has worked out. "We love it here and our kids love the school life here. My eldest daughter Taylor is doing her A-levels next year in Strathearn, which is a fantastic school in Northern Ireland. We were so pleased to get her into it," he said.

"Jude is so enthused about football. It's never a quiet school run with him. He's always asking questions, even down to who are we signing for next year. He was one of the mascots for the Irish Cup final win over Coleraine. He was crying after last year's final defeat against Glenavon, but I could see the elation on his face when he was walking around with the players on the pitch after the victory. That was a special moment.

"He plays for a team called Ridgeway Rovers, a really good club which develops players. It is a good grounding for him. It is a fantastic way of life living in Northern Ireland. The circumstances are a bit different to when I was growing up here as a kid, but that is all the better.

"Having lived in England and Scotland for most of my adult life sometimes my parents didn't get to see our two older children growing up.

"We would come home when we could and my mum used to be over quite a bit along with my dad, but now they have it day to day when they can come and see us and the kids or the kids can go and see them in Killyleagh, and they love that.

"My mum doesn't go to the matches. She used to enjoy watching me as a player, but now that I'm a manager she looks after the little one (Tallulah) on a Saturday when the rest of the family are at the games.

"I feel fortunate to have always had my family supporting me throughout everything I have gone through in my career. It's great to have good people behind you."

Healy, who has played under big names such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Roy Keane and Ally McCoist, says that he has learned a lot about himself as a manager, but admits there are some aspects of the role that he does not enjoy.

"Every day you learn something new about yourself, because as a manager there is always something to be dealing with, be it on the pitch or off the pitch," he stated, fresh from signing a new deal to keep him at Linfield until 2020.

"I know you do coaching courses to try and prepare you for management, but until you actually start managing and deal with various situations like speaking to players, telling them you are leaving them out and that their future won't be at Linfield, you don't know what it's like. Those are the toughest tasks as a manager, telling players that they have to move on."

Inundated with congratulatory messages from the football world after the treble success, one in particular - from ex-international team-mate and Hibs boss Neil Lennon - left a lasting impression on Healy.

"I have been friends with Lenny since I made it into the Northern Ireland squad. He took me under his wing and tried to guide me and help me," said Healy, who netted 36 goals for his country. Even when I was at Rangers and he was at Celtic we always kept in touch. Playing against him we used to have a handshake and speak before or after the game.

"There was always a mutual respect and I knew how much it meant to him to do well for Celtic, because when you are brought up in Northern Ireland you tend to be Rangers or Celtic, and Lenny was Celtic and I was Rangers. I also grew up supporting Linfield.

"I spoke to him when he left Celtic and when he was managing Bolton I was living there and he gave me the opportunity to come and watch some of his training sessions after I had just retired.

"To get a phone call a couple of days after winning the title from Neil meant a huge deal to me, because his words were 'I know how much it means to you to be a winner at Linfield' as it was for him to be a winner at Celtic.

"Lenny knew, and it meant the world to me for him to ring me and take the time to do that."

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