Belfast Telegraph

County Antrim Shield Linfield v Ballymena United live updates

Old pals David Healy and Glenn Ferguson ready for battle

By Stuart McKinley

The English language doesn't offer a collective noun for legends. If it did, tonight would be the perfect opportunity to use it.

Northern Ireland's greatest ever international goalscorer and the most prolific marksman the domestic game here has seen in the last 50 years will be standing within yards of each other in full view of a big crowd at Windsor Park.

If the men in question were playing, the paying punters would almost be guaranteed goals, but that ship has sailed for both David Healy and Glenn Ferguson.

Nowadays they are in management, in charge of Linfield and Ballymena United respectively, and this evening their teams will do battle for the County Antrim Shield.

The pair have been good friends since their days in the Northern Ireland squad together, Healy as the main man, while Ferguson was, by his own admission, 'a bit-part player'.

Ferguson - or Spike as he is known throughout the football fraternity - actually won the first of his five caps 10 months before Healy.

He's also had his hands on the County Antrim Shield before too, beating the Blues to win his first trophy as a manager in November 2012.

After winning 20 trophies as a player with the club Ferguson is also a Linfield legend; Healy is trying to become one and he can take the first step tonight by winning his first trophy as manager of the Blues.

If Linfield were facing anyone else he would love his pal to do that, but not tonight.

"David is a Northern Ireland hero. I was just a bit-part player when I was in the international squad," said Ferguson.

"We got on very well then, even though I was older than him and we still talk a lot now. When it comes to football matches you become enemies for 90 minutes - so he'll be the enemy."

While Ferguson tortured defences in the Irish League, Healy played his entire career in England and Scotland, so the pair never came up against each other on the pitch, but tonight's final won't be the first time they have competed against each other.

Card games on Northern Ireland trips kept the competitive edge sharp ahead of matches, but there were no clear winners, according to Ferguson.

"The card games used to fluctuate," he said.

"There were a few of us who played and there was never too much lost."

Healy announced his retirement from the game in the autumn of 2013, with an ankle injury playing a part in the decision to hang up his boots.

Just a few months before that, however, Ferguson tried to pull off an audacious move that would have seen his pal end his career in the Irish League when he asked Healy to sign for Ballymena.

"I spoke to him briefly about it," said Ferguson.

"He had no interest and I understood that. I hoped he could be persuaded, but it just wasn't in his thinking."

Given the friendship between the pair, if Ferguson couldn't talk Healy round to playing in the Irish League then it's unlikely anyone could.

Healy, who hit 36 goals in 95 Northern Ireland caps, said: "Ballymena is a club that I am fond of because I am good friends with Spike.

"I have a huge amount of respect for him. The job he has done at Ballymena is nothing short of miraculous, considering they don't have a large amount of funds, so credit to him."

It's understandable that anyone who came into the Northern Ireland squad during Healy's time would be awestruck, but when it came to Ferguson, it was Healy who wanted to ask the questions.

"Spike has been in the league a long time. He knows Linfield probably better than a lot of my players know Linfield," said Healy.

"Spike's standing in the game is massive. He's an absolute Linfield legend. And to me he is a legend as a person.

"I was a Linfield supporter when he was in the Northern Ireland squad, so when he came in I was speaking to him about his experience and asking him about Linfield.

"There were a lot of stories exchanged over the years."

Only one of the friends, however, will enjoy a happy ending to this evening's story.

Belfast Telegraph


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