Belfast Telegraph

An all new ball game for Healy in world of management

By Ivan Little

Embattled Linfield manager David Healy could easily have been forgiven for feeling a little bit like High Noon's Gary Cooper as he made his lonely walk towards his soccer showdown on Saturday.

But the Hollywood actor's gun-toting lawman Will Kane only had a bunch of cowboys to face on that dusty street in New Mexico in the film, not several thousand hard-to-please and all-too-real Linfield supporters in the new Windsor Park.

But if Northern Ireland's greatest-ever international goalscorer was wavering under the strain of trying to end his team's headline-grabbing four game run of defeats, he certainly wasn't showing it.

At 2.58pm as he strode purposefully onto the pitch where he'd made his reputation as a sharpshooter in a green jersey against the likes of England and Spain, Healy applauded the fans in blue in the North Stand high above him.

The supporters reciprocated and it was clear that unlike Cooper, Healy hasn't been forsaken.

The welcome maybe wasn't just as effusive as the one accorded to Healy two months ago when he rode into town as the Blues' new boss after his former international colleague Warren Feeney set off into the sunset to take the assistant manager's job at Newport County.

But if a week is a long time in politics, eight weeks with only three wins and a draw is a lifetime at Linfield where a fans' forum had a tongue-in-cheek 'Healy out' thread before he was even in.

However, Healy hasn't found anything remotely funny about the constant stories in the sports sections about him and his defeats as his team tumbled from their lofty position at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership.

Healy has confided in friends that he's been bewildered by suggestions that he's too nice to be a manager and that he didn't have the necessary experience to survive in the rough and tumble of the Irish League.

Yet at a club where patience isn't exactly a virtue, the general consensus before kick-off on Saturday was that supporters were still behind Healy, whose family are all Linfield fanatics.

"We need to give him a bit of time," said one fan in his fifties. "He has inherited this team from Warren Feeney and he can't really be judged until he gets a chance to bring in his own players and mould his own style of football."

Another said: "The older fans here remember that one of our most successful managers, Roy Coyle, didn't exactly get off to a flying start."

Which was something of an understatement. Coyle had never managed a team before he took over at Linfield. I covered his first game against Larne for Ireland's Saturday Night and can still remember the shell-shocked look on Coyle's face after they lost. Things didn't get any better for years. But get better they did.

"David Jeffrey, who like Coyle won 31 trophies at Windsor Park, wasn't exactly an instant hit either," said another supporter.

In his programme notes on Saturday, Healy was full of fighting talk but the big question among supporters in the North Stand before the game against Coleraine was whether or not his players would back his words with actions.

The early signs weren't good for Healy, who paced his coaching area incessantly, running foul at times of the fourth official who tried to corral him inside the white lines.

Despite his entreaties, Linfield didn't exactly trouble the Coleraine defence in the first 20 minutes of a match in which both teams struggled to master Storm Desmond's unrelenting gale.

Visiting fans tried to put the wind up their rivals as they mockingly chanted Healy's name and sang Daydream Believer, urging him - rather than sleepy Jean from the Monkees' original - to cheer up.

Linfield fans responded with Away in a Manger, which had the words adapted years ago by the Green and White Army as a tribute to their hero Healy.

At half-time it was still scoreless and in the North Stand a number of die-hard Linfield fans were trying to remember the last time their team had lost five games in a row, though not even the journalists covering the match had been able to find the answer.

"They're terrible," said one downbeat supporter before his more sanguine friend countered: "At least we're not losing."

It's not known if Healy favours his old boss Sir Alex Ferguson's hairdryer treatment but whatever he said to his players at half-time seemed to have done the trick as two minutes after the re-start, Jimmy Callacher headed home a corner from David Kee.

Healy greeted the goal with a clenched fist and a smile but his grin didn't return for 43 minutes until the final whistle which he'd been praying for. Coleraine, who'd been unbeaten in 11 games, pressed hard but couldn't find an equaliser.

And Healy was mightily relieved as he clapped the fans again and gave his father Clifford, who was in the North Stand, the thumbs-up.

In the cramped confines of a makeshift media room, Healy joked with reporters as he waited to do a live TV interview with the BBC.

But he admitted that the past month of setbacks had been disappointing and frustrating, especially when people asked him 'stupid' questions if he knew the Irish League and its players.

He described losing matches with Linfield as an 'unforgiving time' but said he was on a learning curve, adding: "You need a certain sort of mentality to play, coach and manage here and I believe I have that."

Healy insisted that he still believed Linfield could win the league. But he was asked how he'd coped on a personal level with all the pressure.

"I've loved it," he replied.

However, for a man who has hit the heights as a player with his country at Windsor Park, there was still a sense that he's smarting over the stick he has received at club level.

He added: "People kick you when you're down here but that's the joy of being involved with Linfield."

Belfast Telegraph


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