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Billy Weir

Heave-ho for David Healy? Be careful what you wish for

Billy Weir


Feeling Peaky: David Healy looks on in disgust as
Linfield lose out to Queen’s University in the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup

Feeling Peaky: David Healy looks on in disgust as Linfield lose out to Queen’s University in the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup

Feeling Peaky: David Healy looks on in disgust as Linfield lose out to Queen’s University in the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup

Back in November when Michael O'Neill's move to Stoke City was confirmed, there was the usual race to line up the next man for the Northern Ireland job.

The usual suspects were mentioned - Jim Magilton, Tommy Wright, Stephen Robinson and so on - and one name that was installed by some bookies as second favourite - David Healy.

Less than two months later and some apoplectic Linfield fans were calling for the manager's head on Saturday afternoon following their Irish Cup exit at the hands of Queen's University.

Some of the stuff that was popping up on social media was extraordinary; this is a man who was only minutes away from taking the club into the group stages of the Europa League in the summer.

The coverage has also been pretty disrespectful of Queen's. This isn't a rattle-taggle team of hairy students who crawl out of their Holylands bedsits, clambering over empty bottles of Bucky to have a wee kickabout on a Saturday.

They are a fully-fledged senior team, playing in the second tier of the game in this country and who reached the semi-finals back in 2014 and fully deserve their moment in the sun.

I am delighted for my Alma Mater, suddenly the 2:2 I managed to scrape back in the day looks like a cracking result.

But Linfield fans, and I recognise it is a noisy minority, really should be careful what they wish for in calling for the dismissal of Healy.

Yes, it was an abject and pitiful display by the team, but you can't have it both ways. If he was the best thing since sliced bread in August and November, he hasn't suddenly become the mouldiest bap left in the breadbin over the festive period.

His cause hasn't been helped by those pesky kids in the east suddenly coming back into the picture.

The Queen's defeat comes hot on the heels of the Blues' Boxing Day spanking by Glentoran, and to say Monday night's game against Cliftonville is a big one is something of a gargantuan understatement.

But let's look at where we are at. Linfield are second in the Danske Bank Premiership - yes, second - with a game in hand over the Reds, and if they beat Paddy McLaughlin's men they would leapfrog them.

Conversely, by the time Monday's trip to Solitude comes around, they could find themselves in fifth if Coleraine and Crusaders draw and Glentoran defeat Warrenpoint Town.

Since Healy took over the reins at Windsor Park back in October 2015, he has a win record in the region of 65 per cent (P229 W146 D33 L50). Not to be sniffed at.

He has won every honour up for grabs domestically - the league (twice), the Irish Cup, League Cup, Co Antrim Shield and the Charity Shield.

This may still pale in comparison to the achievements of previous incumbents of the job but these are very different times now.

Back in the days when behemoths Roy Coyle and David Jeffrey ruled the south Belfast earth, they came up against at most three teams in a season that could realistically be seen as challengers. The Glens came and went, there was the rise of the mid-Ulster teams in the Eighties and Nineties, and in more recent times the threat of Crusaders and Cliftonville from north Belfast.

Last season, Ballymena United and Glenavon were also more than capable of causing the odd bloody nose and this time around Larne are also in there holding their own.

Healy was rightly furious and embarrassed by the result at The Dub on Saturday.

"There was anger from our supporters after the game on Saturday and I understand that. I'm the manager and have to take the backlash and be stronger for the experience and better for it," said Healy.

"We didn't perform. It's one where I'm shocked at the level of performance. We are out of the Irish Cup which I'm hugely disappointed about. I'm embarrassed, humiliated and humbled.

"It's unforgivable. My pride has taken a huge battering. I know the players have taken a huge battering. I've experienced many highs and many lows in the game but this is the lowest I have felt at any stage in football and in life. That defeat will haunt me for the rest of my days."

There has also been a race to quantify where the result stands in the grand scheme of things - is it the biggest shock ever in the Irish Cup?

It is certainly the biggest shock of the decade, but for me it doesn't even come close to being near the top of the list.

And in a perverse way it could be a blessing in disguise for Healy, although I would properly whisper that around him for a wee while yet.

Their four rivals for the Gibson Cup all have plenty of other things to keep them occupied, with the sixth round of the Sadler's Peaky Blinder Irish Cup (I know, I know...) still to come.

Cliftonville have the Co Antrim Shield final against Ballymena to come on January 21, while Coleraine and Crusaders will lock horns in the League Cup decider next month.

Healy has been under pressure before. Not long after he succeeded Warren Feeney, he went through a nightmare of a November and lost four league games to Crusaders, Cliftonville, Glenavon and Portadown, and there were almighty rumblings of discontent.

League titles in 2017 and 2019 helped quieten those down and while 2020 hasn't exactly started with a bang, the sole vision can now be on retaining the title.

As Healy himself said on Saturday, "the players, my staff and myself need to be better and the Cliftonville match gives us a chance to bounce back in a big game".

Time will only tell. As for Queen's, they entertain Knockbreda on Saturday. Ah, the romance of the Bluefin Sport Championship...

Belfast Telegraph