Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

David Healy: Italy match still matters

It's not every day you get a chance to play the world champions so I’m relishing the prospect of facing Italy tomorrow night.

It may be only a friendly and we definitely don’t have our strongest squad here in Pisa, but it still matters.

Well, it does to me anyway.

It is Italy v Northern Ireland for goodness sake.

Meeting up with the rest of the lads on Wednesday was a bit surreal.

Firstly because I didn’t know quite a few of them and secondly because along with Damien Johnson, I’m effectively the old man of the squad.

With all the absentees, this must be the most inexperienced squad ever assembled by Northern Ireland.

In fact I would hazard a guess that it may be the most inexperienced squad ever assembled in world football.

It’s a fantastic experience of course for all the young lads.

There are several of these boys who are going to make their international debuts on Saturday night and they’ll be playing against the world champions.

Not a bad way to begin your Northern Ireland career!

Like ourselves, Italy aren’t at full strength, but they still have a host of brilliant players turning out against us.

You don’t play for sides like Fiorentina or Lazio without being a bit tasty.

And they have Gennaro Gattuso.

Any side with him in it will be desperate to win.

This is a chance for some Italians on the fringe of their starting XI to put in a big display ahead of the Confederations Cup this summer and stake a claim for a place at the World Cup finals next year.

Rest assured this will be an important match for those Italians players.

They’ll be going for it, with their usual swagger and attitude, that’s for sure.

I would say to all our youngsters not to be scared by that.

They shouldn’t have fear about a match like this — they should be loving the chance to express themselves and show Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington what they can do.

You never know, we could be at the World Cup finals next year ourselves and maybe Nigel might see something special in one or two of the lads that could take them all the way to South Africa.

There’s plenty of incentive for the youngsters to perform and on a personal note I’ll be doing everything I can to get on the scoresheet.

In my Northern Ireland career I’ve scored against quite a few big nations. I’d love to add the world champions to my list.

I’ll be fighting to remain a Black Cat

I’M pleased that Steve Bruce has been appointed as the new Sunderland manager.

There had been a lot of names bandied about, but I’m glad that a British style manager has been given the nod.

The talk in the press is that there will be around £40million to £50million to spend and while I’m sure new players will be coming into the club, my aim is to show the new boss what I can do.

I’ve had a frustrating season at Sunderland, not playing as many games as I would have liked, but I plan to do all I can to change that when pre-season starts in July.

I played against Steve Bruce and he was a really top class defender.

He is proving himself to be a top drawer manager as well and I’m sure he will do well at Sunderland.

It’s an exciting time for the club and I want to be part of it.

Another appointment this week saw my old international team-mate Jim Magilton given the job at QPR.

Jim could have a few quid to spend as well given the riches at Loftus Road.

I was shocked when Jim was sacked by Ipswich but always felt he would make a quick return and that has happened.

I’m backing him to do well at QPR.

Some you win, some you lose...

With this being my last column for the season, I thought I’d reflect on some of my predictions way back at the start of the campaign.

I’m glad to say I got most of them right. I tipped Manchester United to win the Premier League and Rangers to win the Scottish Premier League.

That worked out alright.

But going for Linfield back home in the Irish FA Premiership was the wrong decision, which Glentoran fans are happy to remind me about.

I had success with Everton having a good FA Cup run and Birmingham City reaching the Premier League, though I reckon my biggest hit was predicting Stoke City to stay in the top flight.

No one gave them a chance, but having played at the Britannia Stadium I know how difficult it is to get a result there.

On the down side I backed David Bentley to shine at Spurs. He started well enough, but it all went wrong after that.

And finally there was the Champions League which I said United would win again.

They did reach the final, but given all the Spanish football I watch, I should really have known to go for Barcelona.

As always it’s been fun. Have a great summer and see you again next season.

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