Belfast Telegraph

David Healy: The night I was Prince of Wales for 60 crazy seconds

By David Healy

Northern Ireland versus Wales in the Euro 2016 knockout stages. What a match for Michael O'Neill and the boys to savour. What an experience for them. It's going to be incredible in Paris tonight.

I relished playing in every one of my internationals, but our World Cup qualifier with Wales in 2004 at the Millennium Stadium goes down as one of the most memorable games I played for my country - for good and bad reasons.

For me to play for Northern Ireland against Wales meant a great deal to my family and especially my dad Clifford whose father Frank, my granda, was a proud Welshman. He was from the Valleys and moved over to Northern Ireland. What a man he was.

We've always had an affiliation with Wales and I was nearly called Daffyd, not David!

Any time the Welsh national anthem is played you can see the tears in my dad's eyes because he remembers his dad.

He is in Paris for tonight's game and I'm sure he'll have a tear in his eye when the Welsh anthem is played, though he will be supporting Northern Ireland.

We still talk about the explosive match in Cardiff that I was involved in 12 years ago.

Passions were running high that night in Wales. You could sense the emotion and electricity in the stadium. The atmosphere was astonishing... so loud.

The fact that Robbie Savage and Michael Hughes had been sent off early on in the match only heightened the tension. We had scored through Jeff Whitley and then I put us 2-0 ahead. We were in a commanding position and then the Italian referee Domenico Messina sent me off which changed everything because we were down to nine men and they had 10.

When I went into our changing room, Hughesy was there watching the game on Welsh TV for some reason on a small screen.

He thought I had been injured and thought I was winding him up about being sent off.

In the second-half we were clinging on a little bit and it ended up 2-2. I was praying for us to at least hang on for a draw. It was great for our fans to take something from the game because they were brilliant all night. I feel if Hughesy and I hadn't been sent off we would have won the game.

The red card was one of the biggest disappointments of my career.

For starters I had been on a long run of playing in every single Northern Ireland game since my debut in 2000 so once I was sent off I knew that would come to an end as I was suspended for our next game.

Also I did not believe at the time - and I still hold the same view - that I deserved to be dismissed.

The referee showed me two yellow cards in quick succession. The first one was for karate kicking the corner flag after I had scored. That was dubious but the second one completely stunned me.

I had made a gesture to the crowd, putting my fist up in celebration after I had scored. I'd done that celebration on various occasions for club and country previously and nobody was bothered.

Back then, though, the ref thought there was something wrong with what I did and sent me off. I can only think his perception of what I did was lost in translation.

Certainly I did not mean to cause any offence with my celebration. I would not have done that.

I had just scored a goal to put us 2-0 up in the Millennium Stadium. It was an amazing moment for me and I was feeling like the Prince of Wales. Moments later I was walking down the tunnel.

It was the craziest 60 seconds of my career.

I hope tonight there are goals for the Northern Ireland team but no red cards. Wales may be favourites in a lot of people's eyes, but I feel it is a 50/50 match.

We should be excited about this. This is a game which we can progress from.

Gareth Bale will of course be a massive factor for them.

He has proved his worth at Real Madrid and is rightly regarded as one of the best players in the world.

In a way he is like Cristiano Ronaldo, who can score all different types of goals, from close range, long distance, free-kicks or headers. He is a quality footballer and obviously Northern Ireland must try to close out that threat.

I don't think Michael will set up our shape to accommodate only Bale though because Wales have other good players.

The back four will be key for Northern Ireland tonight. I wouldn't envisage many changes from Michael in that area of the pitch and if he does go with Gareth McAuley, Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans and Aaron Hughes, as he has done in the last couple of games, they will have huge roles to play.

The captain Steven Davis will also be very important. If Steven has a good game I believe Northern Ireland will have a really good chance of making it into the quarter-finals.

Bring it on I say. Northern Ireland v Wales is special. This could be the most special of all.

Belfast Telegraph