Northern Ireland record goalscorer David Healy has spoken of his sadness at the death of former international hero Alan McDonald.
The man affectionately known as ‘Big Mac’ passed away suddenly at the weekend, at the age of 48, while out playing golf at the Temple course near Lisburn.
Like everyone connected with Northern Ireland football, Healy was stunned by the news that a larger-than-life figure like McDonald (right), who won 52 caps, could be taken so early in life.
“When I heard about Alan I was shocked and saddened. He was so young,” said Healy.
“I had a game of golf with him last year at a charity event and I know how much he loved to play.
“When Sammy McIlroy was the Northern Ireland manager he brought Alan in to work with the full squad on a couple of occasions and I got on really well with him. He was a great football person and a good man.
“I've always felt that there's a link between me and Big Mac. When he was growing up all he wanted to do was play for Northern Ireland, especially at Windsor Park and that's the way I was. It still is.
“He also co-commentated on the England game when I was fortunate enough to score the winner at Windsor in 2005, and any time I've watched it back, you hear Big Mac's voice full of passion and authority.”
Healy added: “He gave our country so much as a defender, a player and a leader.
“When I think of Alan the first thing that always springs to my mind is the 0-0 draw with England at Wembley in 1985 which helped us qualify for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
“After the match Big Mac gave that famous TV interview telling anyone who thought it was a fix to come and see him. It showed how much he cared about Northern Ireland.
“It's such sad news that he has gone. My thoughts go out to his family and friends.”
Alan’s family have invited supporters wishing to pay their respects to a service of thanksgiving and his funeral at Ballygowan Presbyterian Church today at 12pm.
Former internationals and members of the current Northern Ireland squad are expected to attend the service, which will be conducted by the Rev Brian Black.
Broadcaster Jackie Fullerton is due to provide a eulogy, while there will be a private family interment after the funeral.