Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Why Northern Ireland will never replace David Healy

David Healy
David Healy smashes home his most celebrated goal against England
David Healy celebrates scoring a cracker against Sweden in a Euro 2008 qualifier

With suggestions that David Healy is considering his international future, Steven Beacom assesses just how influential the striker has been for Northern Ireland

It didn’t matter the opposition, venue or time of year — Healy was always on hand to score, score and score some more.

Be it in a battle of wits with a goalkeeper, from close range or long distance, Healy always found a way to send the Northern Ireland supporters into raptures. Sadly for individual, team and the fans it hasn’t been that way for quite some time.

And now it appears that the man known as King David is considering his international future.

It’s been 11 years since he made his Northern Ireland bow in 2000 away to Luxembourg when Sammy McIlroy was shrewd enough to see the potential and blood the young Manchester United reserve.

Since then Healy has played 86 times for his country and netted on 35 occasions.

It’s a goalscoring record that may never be beaten. Think about it — the previous best before Healy came along was 13.

As a nation, despite having a list of fine strikers down the years, Northern Ireland have always had problems scoring goals. Quite simply the team doesn’t create many chances.

If you look back at Healy’s goals down the years — his first was on his debut in Luxembourg and his most recent at home to San Marino in 2008 — he has produced numerous strikes out of nothing.

Reflect on that remarkable 2008 European Championship qualifying campaign when he scored a record-breaking 13 goals, beating the previous best of Davor Suker.

Goals he scored against Spain, Sweden, Latvia and Denmark at Windsor Park were up there with the best ever seen at the old stadium.

It was a glorious period for Northern Ireland, when we had genuine hopes of qualifying for a major championships for the first time since 1986.

Obviously the rest of the team played their part but Healy was the talisman. Without him those epic nights at Windsor would never have happened.

Ditto our most celebrated evening of the last decade when Healy timed his run perfectly to race on to a clever Steve Davis pass to smash home the winning goal against England in Belfast on September 7, 2005.

At that stage of course, under Lawrie Sanchez, the Northern Ireland team was built around Healy and he flourished.

The former Fulham and Sunderland ace continued to score for Nigel Worthington initially, but the goals have dried up so alarmingly in the last couple of years that Healy is no longer an automatic selection. And without Healy’s goals, Northern Ireland have stopped scoring. See what I mean how important this guy has been to our nation’s football team.

While his international form was dipping, his club career turned into a nightmare as he was stuck at Sunderland playing with the kids in the second string, not having a chance of first-team football.

Then came a dream move to Rangers in January. He scored at Ibrox early on but injuries since have set him back.

At 31, David knows he has to be playing on a regular basis, be it at Rangers or somewhere else.

The forward’s also smart enough to know that Worthington has shown in the current campaign that he is looking to the future and Healy may not be part of it.

If he does call it quits, and it seems likely the day will come sooner rather than later, the tributes will flood in for one of our all-time greats.

Rightly so. Not only will Healy go down as the best marksman we’ve ever had, but also as a player who was truly committed to the cause, always turning up rain, hail or shine, in form or not, home and away while others cried off.

You hope that heroes like Healy will go on forever. Sadly, football doesn’t work that way.

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