Coach David Healy can inspire football's young guns
David Healy would dearly love to be in Turkey this week. While Michael O'Neill took his Northern Ireland squad across Europe yesterday to the city of Adana, just off the Mediterranean coast and not far from Asia, Healy has a meeting with a different Turkish team in mind.
The country's record goalscorer has joined the Northern Ireland coaching set-up for the first time – at his own request.
Healy is working with Stephen Robinson's under-17 squad ahead of three European Championship qualifying matches over the next week after volunteering his services to international manager Michael O'Neill.
Without a club since being released by Bury at the end of last season, Healy hasn't retired from the game, but he is clearly preparing for life after playing football and took his Uefa B and A coaching courses with the IFA last summer.
And Robinson is hoping that his former international team-mate can inspire the next generation of Northern Ireland players.
The under-17s face Latvia, Luxembourg and, ironically, Turkey in European Championship qualifying and the young players will have the benefit of working with a legend.
"David asked Michael O'Neill if he could come along and see what we do and that's a great compliment to me," said Robinson (pictured below).
"It's fantastic to have David with us. He's a Northern Ireland legend and it will be very good for the young lads in the squad to be able to learn from him over the next week.
"Some of them were in awe of him at the start, but David is a down to earth guy. He put them at ease very quickly and I have no doubt that they'll become comfortable with him in a short space of time.
"He's a good friend of mine and a great guy. It is great for Northern Ireland football if we can keep someone like David involved.
"It is a great opportunity for our strikers, Jonathan Smith, Adam Sally and Andy Mooney, to work with David and if any of them can finish half as well as him then we stand a great chance.
"It's just the little things that come with experience that he can pass on and if they aren't able to learn from David I don't know who else we have that they can learn from."
Before O'Neill was appointed as successor to Nigel Worthington two years ago many observers were calling for ex-internationals to be brought into the coaching set up to nurture Northern Ireland's young talent.
O'Neill promoted Robinson from his job as county coach in Londonderry and later appointed Stephen Craigan to work with the under-19s.
The pair will work together this week, with Healy alongside them. That's a total of 156 international caps on the coaching team with 36 goals – although they were all scored by Healy.
Robinson also doubles up as under-21 boss, but he can't be in two places at once this week, so when they face Italy tomorrow night the Irish FA's Elite Performance Director Jim Magilton and Robinson's assistant Kevin Horlock will be in charge. That's another 84 caps.
Between O'Neill and his goalkeeping coach Maik Taylor they played 119 times for Northern Ireland, so there is no shortage of playing experience among those who O'Neill has recruited.
UNDER-17 FIXTURES: Thursday November 14: Turkey v Luxembourg (Shamrock Park, Portadown, 2pm); Northern Ireland v Latvia, Stangmore Park, Dungannon, 7pm). Saturday November 16: Latvia v Turkey (Solitude, 2pm); Northern Ireland v Luxembourg (Solitude, 7pm). Tuesday November 19: Luxembourg v Latvia, Shamrock Park, Portadown 2pm); Turkey v Northern Ireland, (Stangmore Park, Dungannon 2pm)