The mathematics show that we can still qualify for the World Cup finals, writes David Healy
I do like to think positively, but I’m not going to kid myself or the Northern Ireland public — our hopes of going to South Africa are over.
The reality of that hits me like a ton of bricks.
Having watched it on television since I was a kid, I’ve always dreamt about playing at the World Cup for Northern Ireland, but I have to be honest and wonder if it will ever happen now.
I’ve enjoyed many great highs in my international career and endured a few lows along the way and this is the worst I’ve felt after a game of football.
We knew the situation going into Wednesday‘s game with Slovakia, that victory would put us top of the group. We also knew that a win over the Czech Republic in our final game would give us an incredible chance of finishing first in the table and going to South Africa automatically. At worst we would have been guaranteed runners-up spot and a play-off.
All the boys were aware of what was at stake, but once again we fell short, just like we did in the previous campaign when we lost to Latvia and Iceland at vital times.
We really should have qualified for Euro 2008.
That was a missed opportunity and I feel the same way this time.
We threw it away.
Not just against Slovakia at Windsor Park, but in other games.
We didn’t get our first win until the fourth match in the group which made things difficult early on.
And we still can’t beat a decent side away from home. The performance in Poland was excellent, but we only drew when we should have won.
Even so, going into Wednesday’s game, we still had a real chance of qualifying.
We didn’t do ourselves justice on the night, though I do believe we should give Slovakia some credit.
For me they were a bigger, better, more professional version of ourselves. They’ve no world class players, but have a great team ethic and had a clinical edge. When we made mistakes they punished us.
After the match the manager, Nigel Worthington had a real go at us. He was right to do it. We deserved it because we simply weren’t good enough against Slovakia.
Nigel was obviously gutted as he was desperate to lead us to the World Cup finals.
He asked if the defeat really hurt us. It certainly hurt me.
I’m not just a Northern Ireland player, I’m a Northern Ireland fan and was desperate to make it.
I’ve scored a lot of goals for Northern Ireland and I’ll take them with me forever, but I’d swap them to play for my country at the World Cup finals.
We have one game left in the group away to the Czech Republic next month. We’ll give our all in that, though already on the back of Wednesday there has been a sense of reflection in our camp about this campaign.
One of the things that stands out for me over the last couple of years has been the ongoing debate about my place in the side.
I’d like to address that here and speak from the heart about it.
It has dominated a lot of the build-up to matches and to be frank I feel it’s been unfair on the team.
It would be far better if we were reading or talking about the team as a whole or the opposition.
The constant speculation about whether I should be playing or not does Northern Ireland no favours.
You will see elsewhere that I have given an honest assessment of my performances in this campaign, and I’ll tell you, if I didn’t think I was good enough to still play for Northern Ireland, I’d be the first to put my hands up.
With respect to our other strikers, I believe I am every bit as valuable to Northern Ireland as them.
I know how football works and I understand that people can say what they want, it is a game of opinions after all, but I have got the feeling over the last year that some people have been waiting for me to fall.
There are other players in our squad who aren’t playing regular first team football with their clubs, yet it seems I am the only one ever mentioned in that regard.
I have felt at times in this campaign that there are those who want to force me out of the Northern Ireland set-up.
And I’ll admit that has genuinely disappointed me.
Maybe some people are just sick of David Healy and want me out, so a new hero can be built up.
I’ve seen it before in football, especially in the international arena, that after one campaign is over people want to see someone different.
In many ways I was that someone different after Iain Dowie left the international scene.
He was considered the main striker for years, then he wasn’t involved and a new kid on the block was required.
Suddenly I was thrust into the spotlight.
Thankfully I had a good start to international football and things went from there.
Now almost 10 years later, it’s me who is being questioned.
And there are people who want to see what’s coming next.
Selection issues are up to the manager and I don’t know if there will be room for me in future squads, be it next month when we play the Czechs, or in two or three years time.
I genuinely hope it’s not over because nothing in football gives me a bigger buzz than playing for Northern Ireland and our brilliant fans.
Of course I know there will come a time when I’m not picked, but I don’t feel that time should be now.
As I mentioned, much has been made of my club career. My decision not to leave Sunderland in the transfer window was questioned in some quarters.
I’m not sure if these same people realise that a loan system is now in operation and it is possible that I can move on loan to a Championship club.
I’ll speak to interested clubs and take it from there, but I make no apology for wanting to do what is best for me and my family.
Of course I want to be playing regular football, though when I’ve scored crucial goals for Northern Ireland in the past I haven’t always been playing on a regular basis for my club.
I know full well that things have to be addressed at club level and I’ll do that.
I’ll also continue do my very, very best for Northern Ireland when asked to do so. I promise you that.
I know some doubt me but I still believe I have lots to offer my country.