Belfast Telegraph

Driven Healy is savouring every challenge of his Windsor reign

By Stuart McKinley

He could have chosen the quiet life. Stayed under the radar. Took a coaching job down the leagues in England, spent most evenings at home with his family and been mentioned rarely, if ever, in the media.

Instead, just like when he was a player, David Healy decided to get his teeth into a big challenge.

And not just any challenge. In terms of domestic football here, it's the biggest there is; managing Linfield.

The Blues are Northern Ireland's equivalent of Manchester United or Rangers - and having spent time at both of those clubs, Healy knows all about what playing for those two giants of the game entails.

Had Warren Feeney knocked back an approach from Newport County and stayed at Linfield, Healy would have taken up a coaching position with the Irish FA's Club NI set-up, but his pal's departure and a throw-away line planted the seed in his head.

The chance that someone else would take the reins at Windsor Park and build a dynasty like Roy Coyle or David Jeffrey prompted Northern Ireland's record goalscorer to say 'yes' to the Blues.

"I was working in England. I was at Fleetwood with Graham Alexander, who unfortunately left for whatever reason. I was in there and was with the Northern Ireland Under-16s and Under-17s, so I'd been in and around the scene here for a while," said Healy, whose side takes on Ballymena United in the fifth round of the Irish Cup today.

"I have been back in Northern Ireland quite a lot over the last couple of years getting to know the younger players, so it was an easy one for me.

"As soon as Linfield came up - I wasn't expecting it to come up, I knew Warren had left and I spoke to Warren at that time and jokingly he said 'would you fancy it?'

"I said 'definitely not Warren, my life's easy' but then the opportunity came along. I spoke to the board and it was an opportunity where I thought at the time it's probably now or never. Someone could come in and be a huge success over a number of years and it would never come my way again.

"I have a lot of affection for the club and a lot of people at the club before I even came in - including quite a few of the players - so I thought 'why not?'"

That was in mid-October. In the three months since then, the 36-year-old's life has been transformed.

He has had to adjust to a situation that is very different to that of a full-time professional football, but, he says, the part-time nature of the post is a fallacy.

"I wish it was part-time," he said. "Someone told me it was part-time. We train Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, the Swifts (Linfield's reserve team) play on a Wednesday and I always attend.

"I do have a lot of time during the day, but I'm taking phone calls from the club; kitmen, players, agents, going through clips of games, organising training for the Monday and taking that into Tuesday and on a Friday I'd be finalising the team and going through a presentation that we try to give the players before the game on Saturday.

"It's flat out really. Sunday would be a lie in for people who don't have kids, but I've got kids who like to wake early."

You have to get up early to catch Healy out. One of the criticisms thrown out when Linfield appointed him as manager was that he didn't know the Irish League. While he was still playing, however, BBC NI's Final Score show on a Saturday evening was on series link on his Sky Plus box and when Irish League matches were screened live on Sky Sports, he'd have been watching them.

Even now he spends his time away from the game watching more football.

"I love getting out of the house to watch games," he said. "Even when Linfield aren't playing I've been to matches. I was at the Border Cup final, I was at Ballyclare, I've been to Crusaders, Cliftonville and Ballinamallard on Friday nights.

"If there's a game on I'll go and watch it."

Healy, a typical working class hero, is passing the same strong family values, like respect and hard work, instilled in him by mum Irene and dad Clifford during his childhood in the village of Killyleagh, County Down, onto his own children, daughter Taylor and son Jude.

David Beckham might have delivered the cross that Healy headed against the post on his only Premier League appearance for Manchester United, but being a Red Devil during their playing days is where the similarities between the two end.

Healy may have played for some huge clubs - United, Preston North End, Leeds United, Fulham, Sunderland and Rangers - but he has never been one to seek the limelight - even when he was adding two or three goals at a time to his Northern Ireland scoring record, finishing with 36 in 95 appearances.

The famous story that he went back to his hotel room after scoring the winning goal against England and tucked into a sandwich and a glass of blackcurrant juice sums him up really. Ruthless on the pitch, but happy to blend into the background off it.

It's the same at Linfield, where he says 'the talking will be done on the pitch'.

Amazingly, even though he scored more than twice as many international goals as any other Northern Ireland player, some believe Healy should have got more.

"You can only deliver what you can deliver. I leave it to other people to ask the questions and then try to deliver and I think over my career with Northern Ireland I answered more questions than I didn't answer," he said.

"I was asked the same questions when I came into the job. Can you do this? Can you do that? Over a period of time hopefully I can look back and say 'there's your answer'.

"Hopefully I can deliver."

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