Belfast Telegraph

Why our boys can't keep leaving it to King David

By Steven Beacom

My telephone was red hot on Saturday afternoon. Texts were flying in quicker than you could say Nigel Worthington.

The reason? People hearing that David Healy was on the bench for Fulham's match with Tottenham on Saturday.

Ahead of the crucial European Championship double header against Latvia and Iceland, it wasn't exactly the news Northern Ireland fans wanted to hear.

"What's wrong with Healy?"

"Is King David alright?"

"Will he make it for Latvia?"

They kept coming and coming. My favourite came from Stephen Crawford, an old pal of mine from Fermanagh.

It read: "Healy on bench. Nice touch by Sanch for next week or slight injury?"

Nice touch by Sanch? Love that.

Lawrie Sanchez was fantastic for Northern Ireland. Brilliant.

But believe me Lawrie has moved on.

Yes, he would like to see Northern Ireland qualify for Euro 2008 but if he had a choice between Fulham staying up and the Green and White Army going to Austria and Switzerland next year, he wouldn't have to think twice about it.

Lawrie will use Healy in Fulham's best interests, not Northern Ireland's.

I suspect Healy's absence from the starting line-up on Saturday was due to a niggly foot injury which has affected the man from Killyleagh for a little while - even last month when he scored twice against Liechtenstein.

Not serious enough to keep him out altogether, but concerning enough for him not to start against Spurs.

Still, he came off the bench with 20 minutes left to help Fulham, who were 3-1 down at the time, earn a 3-3 draw.

And the good news for Northern Ireland fans is that David will be on the plane to Riga where Northern Ireland need a win.

The texts about Healy though raise the hugely important point, what Northern Ireland would ever do without him?

Not much is the simple answer. Out of the 13 goals scored in the qualifying campaign, Healy has hit an astonishing 11 with Grant McCann and Kyle Lafferty the others on target against Liechtenstein. It is worth noting that when those two scored Healy had already won both those matches with a hat-trick and brace respectively.

You know just maybe there will be a game when King David doesn't hit the net. We better hope that if that day comes, someone else is there to step up and be the hero.

Suddenly Sam's the man again

Great to see Sammy McIlroy winning the League Two Manager of the month award last week.

I was really pleased for the former Northern Ireland boss.

We had a bit of a fall-out at the end of his reign in charge of the international team.

Sam didn't enjoy my damning verdict on Northern Ireland's defeat at home to Armenia when I became the first journalist to suggest a change in management was required.

Let's just say we had a full and frank discussion about it.

That was back in 2003 and to this day people still say to me I was too hard on everyone's favourite Uncle Sam.

Whole-hearted as a player and a massive favourite wherever he went, unfortunately the Northern Ireland job just didn't work out for him.

I think all supporters here were sad about it.

No one more so than Sammy himself, who was desperate to be a success.

We kissed and made up - not literally you understand - when we met at Northern Ireland's match against England at Old Trafford a couple of years ago and I don't mind admitting I was really happy about that.

I've had run-ins with quite a few football people over the years; from managers to IFA officials, and to be frank it wouldn't bother me if I never spoke to most of them again, but Sammy was different.

That's the thing about McIlroy - meet him and you can't fail to like the guy.

After the Northern Ireland experience, he had a rough ride as Stockport boss and then went back to basics at Morecambe.

And look what he has achieved with them.

He took them into the Football League last season and this time around has already led them to famous wins over Championship sides Preston and Wolves in the Carling Cup. Sam's the man again. Here's hoping he enjoys more success in the weeks and months ahead. If anyone deserves it, Sammy does.

Belfast Telegraph


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