Belfast Telegraph

David Healy could still get a call to help Northern Ireland sink Russia

By Stuart McKinley

Michael O'Neill has left the door open for David Healy to wreck Russia's World Cup dream and make more personal history.

Northern Ireland's record goalscorer hasn't been included in the initial squad for next Wednesday's Brazil 2014 qualifier against Fabio Capello's team as he is currently out of action following his release from Bury at the end of last season.

O'Neill, however, has told Healy that he will give him every opportunity to write another chapter in his famous story if the Killyleagh man can get himself sorted out with a club.

Healy – also Northern Ireland's most capped outfield player as well as the most prolific goalgetter – is five games away from the magical 100 cap mark.

With a handful of games to go in the World Cup campaign an appearance against Russia would put him in a position to hit the century mark before the end of the year.

"I spoke to David on Monday, on his birthday. He tells me he's 34 now," said O'Neill.

"He is just trying to get himself a club and he's not alone in that situation.

"David is trying to get himself fit and obviously he is keen to get playing so hopefully that gets sorted.

"I would love to see David get 100 caps, but the caps he has got he has earned and he knows that he will have to earn the rest to get to that mark.

"He is not expecting any favours in that regard and it would be disrespectful to David to do that.

"He is hoping that he can get another year somewhere and prove that he is still capable of scoring goals.

"It may be after the window closes that an opportunity will present itself."

Chris Baird and Paddy McCourt are in the same position as Healy.

Both are without clubs, although Baird is training with Queens Park Rangers and McCourt with Hibernian.

As things stand they won't be involved against the Russians next week, but O'Neill has left room in his squad for all three players should they agree a deal with a club before the weekend.

No matter what happens the current panel of 20 will be increased before the squad meets on Sunday.

"I purposely named a squad of 20 players," said O'Neill, as he confirmed his squad alongside the Irish FA's announcement of the extension of their sponsorship with Vauxhall to 2018.

"Normally I would name 23 and the reason for that is the uncertainty surrounding some of the players regarding their club situation.

"At that time when the squad was put together there were four players – Pat McCourt, David Healy, Chris Baird and Adam McGurk – who were unattached. Adam has since signed for Burton Albion. I have spoken to all of them and they understand that they aren't training regularly at a club and it's a very difficult situation to come into a game of this magnitude having not had a proper pre-season and the day-to-day training required.

"I know Paddy has had a few trial games and I know Chris is now training at Queens Park Rangers.

"Chris is probably the one that I am keeping an eye on the most at this stage because he is a vital player for us and we have Sammy Clingan missing from the midfield.

"I will speak to the players between now and Sunday and see how they feel and I always have the option of calling them in. At the time I was putting the squad together I needed to give myself some flexibility.

"I named a large stand-by list – Dean Shiels is just returning to fitness, I have to monitor that over the next week to see if he's capable of being involved.

"The squad will be added to, but it was really a case of seeing what develops over the next four or five days, but there will be one or two added."

Russia's defeat in Portugal last time out has left them trailing Cristiano Ronaldo and co. by two points, but with two games in hand.

A win in Belfast would put the Russians in pole position to win the group and qualify for the finals in Brazil.

For Northern Ireland it would mean a 10th game under O'Neill without a victory. His squad does, however, include 10 of the 11 who played the full 90 minutes of the 1-1 draw in Portugal last October and a repeat of that performance and result is what the manager will be asking for.

"I saw Russia against Portugal, it was a top class game and they will probably feel a little aggrieved not to have taken something out of the game," he said.

"It will be interesting to see the way they played away from home and the intensity with which they played away from home. We are going to have to be able to match that and to take anything out of the game we are going to have to be at our very, very best."

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