Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Irish FA give the fans shirt shrift

As World Cup fever hit Belfast this week, Irish FA chiefs earned their money trying to promote what many managers see as a pointless friendly.

Try telling the Green and White Army last night’s 1-1 draw with Israel was a worthless exercise however.

Gone are the days when two men and a dog turned up at Windsor Park — even when World Cup winners France came to Belfast in 1998.

While the fans certainly did their bit by almost filling the international stadium, the IFA missed a trick.

As the team ran out they proudly showed off their new away kit, a striking white and blue number with flashes of green.

A quick head-count of fans wearing the new shirt around the ground before and during the game however brought a big fat zero.

Surely the powers-that-be missed a trick in not releasing the shirt, even on the morning of the game, for the many supporters eager to have the latest fashion accessory.

At a time when all avenues should be explored when it comes to bringing money into the association, this seems the worst decision since having a blue away shirt.

So how do we get our hands on this shirt then? Well, thanks to George Jones’s dulcet tones at the half-time break, it will be available from August 22 from the IFA shop.

Okay, shirty rant over. It certainly looked the business as Grant McCann wheeled away in celebration after scoring a trademark free-kick on 18 minutes to give Nigel Worthington’s men the lead.

Maybe these friendly internationals are a good idea after all.

Even though the goal lifted the crowd, the atmosphere was still strangely subdued.

The supporters are renowned for creating an intimidating atmosphere for our visitors but maybe they were saving their voices for the trip to Poland.

Oh, by that stage the new shirt will be out too. Okay, rant really over.

McCann’s superb curling free-kick – which Israeli keeper let squirm through his hands – did raise the roof.

Unfortunately for the visitors, keeper Dudu Aouate lived up to his name but his team-mates got him out of a mess with a slick equaliser.

As the barrage of substitutions got underway, one man who was left on the pitch at the start of the second-half was David Healy and he lasted almost an hour.

The rumours around the team’s Templepatrick base all week were that the record goal-scorer was going to have to make do with a place on the bench.

Admittedly it was only a friendly but Northern Ireland without the little Sunderland hitman just wouldn’t seem right.

He may not have played for the Black Cats as much as he would have liked last season but he’s never let his country down.

By the time the real action begins in September in Chorzow however, Nigel Worthington may have the biggest decision of his Northern Ireland reign to make.

Martin Paterson is almost certain to play for Premier League new-boys Burnley and if he could find the net, Worthington will be tempted to face the wrath of the fans and start him ahead of the iconic Healy.

With goals the name of the game in Poland and only a win probably going to be good enough, it is an intriguing dilemma.

Kyle Lafferty, who enjoyed last night’s game before warming a seat in the stand at Ibrox for three games, will play due to his height and ‘something different’ variation.

Healy was desperate to bag his 36th international strike last night but alas it wasn’t to be.

But if it’s 0-0 in Poland with a minute remaining next month there is no one we’d trust more than Healy to provide a moment of magic.

The big question now though; is he Worthy of a start? Over to you Nigel.

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