Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's greatest ever sports star: Part four - Mike Gibson and David Healy

By Steven Beacom

To celebrate the 20th Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, on January 26, 2015, we want YOU to decide Northern Ireland's greatest sports star ever. In alphabetical order, and continuing daily, we assess the 20 legends shortlisted by a judging panel. See voting details below.

Mike Gibson (Rugby)

Marvellous Mike... 'The shining light' with a magical touch

Mike Gibson is looked upon as one of the rugby greats. Ask players who were team-mates or opponents on the field and they will wax lyrical about the Ulsterman's talent.

And all with a twinkle in their eyes recalling a true marvel of their sport.

It wasn't just his peers who were impressed.

Say the words Mike Gibson to rugby fans of a certain age and immediately a smile will light up their faces, such is the admiration they have for this outstanding sportsman.

Mike was a sensationally gifted player, capable of creating all sorts of magic from the back line, especially at centre.

Gibson's thought process was invariably ahead of the rest, as he starred for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, after studying Law at Cambridge University.

He first played for Ireland as a 21-year-old in 1964, becoming a mainstay of the team during an international career that didn't end until 1979, amassing a whopping 69 caps.

Gibson, now 72, also featured on FIVE British and Irish Lions tours, including the momentous trips to New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974.

Labelled the finest centre of his generation, had Gibson been around today, staying at the top for 15 years would easily have earned him more than 100 Irish appearances.

Indeed it wasn't until 2005 that his record haul of Irish caps was overtaken.

That tally may have been beaten, but Gibson will always be up around the top when rugby's best ever players are discussed.

As Ireland rugby icon Brian O'Driscoll, another wonderful centre, once said: "At times when Irish rugby wasn't successful Mike was always the shining light. He was a magnificent player and a true ambassador for the game."

 

David Healy (Football)

David's goalscoring heroics made him the king of Windsor

Before David Healy came along Northern Ireland's record goalscoring tally was 13. Now it stands at a stunning 36 thanks to the remarkable man known at Windsor Park as King David.

It is a mark unlikely to ever be surpassed.

Healy, 35, also holds another notable record for the most goals during a UEFA European Championship qualifying campaign when single handedly he almost took his side to the Euro 2008 finals, netting an amazing 13 times, beating the previous record of 12 by Croatia's Davor Suker.

Even more importantly, Killyleagh's favourite son holds a special place in the hearts of Northern Ireland's sporting followers.

On September 7, 2005, Healy made history at Windsor, scoring the only goal of the game against England in a World Cup qualifier. It was Northern Ireland's first win over England since 1972 and remains one of the most celebrated events in this country's history.

It meant so much that in many towns across Northern Ireland, there were street parties that evening.

A year later in Belfast he hit a fabulous hat-trick in a famous 3-2 victory over a star-studded Spanish side, which would go on to dominate world football.

During a five year period he was one of the most lethal strikers in international football. No goalkeeper or defence was safe from Healy's shooting boots.

At a time when the country didn't have a lot to shout about in a sporting context, Healy delivered time and time again against big teams and big players on big nights.

Little wonder he is one of Northern Ireland's biggest heroes... and he's a genuinely good guy to boot.

Now coaching, his dream is to one day become Northern Ireland boss.

 

Our outstanding Top 20

George Best (Football)

Peter Canavan (GAA)

Darren Clarke (Golf)

Peter Doherty (Football)

Joey Dunlop (Motorcycling)

Carl Frampton (Boxing)

Mike Gibson (Rugby)

David Healy (Football)

Alex Higgins (Snooker)

Paddy Hopkirk (Rallying)

Pat Jennings (Football)

Jack Kyle (Rugby)

Dave McAuley (Boxing)

Willie John McBride (Rugby)

Tony McCoy (Horse Racing)

Graeme McDowell (Golf)

Barry McGuigan (Boxing)

Rory McIlroy (Golf)

Sean O'Neill (GAA)

Mary Peters (Athletics)

 

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