Danske Bank Premiership
David Healy has won five Irish League titles in six full seasons as Linfield manager and delivered a double and a treble for the club as well as millions of pounds through European football and transfers.
That should be that. He shouldn’t be at Windsor Park next season. Blues fans may not appreciate it but Northern Ireland’s finest male goalscorer has done more than enough to earn a crack at being a boss in England or Scotland.
Maybe then other clubs would stand a chance of landing the Gibson Cup.
Healy’s Linfield have lifted it four times on the bounce now and this was supposed to be a transitional season with a number of serial winners on the playing staff moving on last summer and the Blues switching from a part-time to full-time operation.
As Coleraine, Larne, Crusaders and Glentoran fell by the wayside, only Cliftonville put up a real title fight, taking the battle to the final day before a typically professional performance from Linfield defeated the Bannsiders 2-0 to ensure the celebrations were in south Belfast rather than other areas of the city.
That championship glory for the Blues has helped Healy earn his fourth Manager of the Year prize, pipping Cliftonville’s Paddy McLaughlin to the accolade.
McLaughlin would have been a worthy recipient of the award but, in keeping with his Windsor reign, Healy came out on top when votes from members of the Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Association and top flight managers were counted.
Appointed Linfield boss in October 2015, Healy has already earned all-time great status as an Irish League boss.
Before taking up the role, Healy, then 36, asked trusted allies for their views after he was approached by the Linfield hierarchy. Some told him he would be mad to accept the post no matter his lifelong allegiance to the club.
After all, back then Healy was the nation’s darling, loved by all for his remarkable exploits as a record-breaking Northern Ireland striker who netted iconic winning goals versus England, Spain, Sweden and Denmark among others.
Retired as a player and working with Northern Ireland youngsters, he could slowly and surely have made his way through the IFA coaching ranks, keeping sweet with the suits and lining himself up for a job with the senior side.
All relatively hassle free.
The alternative was becoming Linfield boss with the distinct possibility it may bring more trouble than it was worth.
For starters, there would be the expectation from his own demanding fans and board that only first place was good enough.
Then there would be the hate from rival supporters who used to idolise him as he smashed the ball into the net wearing a green shirt on international duty.
Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey is rightly lauded today and hugely respected for everything he has achieved in the game but when he was in charge at Linfield, the man took abuse from all and sundry.
It goes with the territory. Being boss of Linfield isn’t just tough on the manager, it’s difficult on his family too. That was what Healy was letting himself in for yet, with the courage of his convictions, he hurled himself into the hotseat.
In his first full season as boss, he won the league, Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield, then came a hugely disappointing barren campaign which he has been making up for ever since with four more titles, the League Cup and another Irish Cup.
There have also been impressive displays in Europe, especially in 2019 when only away goals prevented the Blues from reaching the group stages of the Europa League.
Healy has proved his worth in Irish League football and then some. English and Scottish clubs have taken notice but none, as yet, have taken the plunge.
If they do, much as his heart lies at Linfield, he must seriously consider moving to pastures new because, bar qualifying for the group phase of a European competition, you wonder what more Killyleagh’s favourite son can do domestically without fans becoming blase about it.
Legends like Jeffrey, Roy Coyle, Ronnie McFall and current Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter never managed across the water. That’s a shame. No disrespect to the football scene in this country but it would be a waste of Healy’s talent if he didn’t have a shot in England or Scotland.
Coleraine’s Oran Kearney did a super job at St Mirren, albeit for one season, keeping the Buddies in the Scottish Premiership; Healy’s predecessor at Linfield Warren Feeney went on to win promotion and a title in Bulgaria, while Kenny Shiels and Tommy Wright — who managed many clubs between them here — created history and claimed trophy glory at Kilmarnock and St Johnstone respectively, showing that Irish League bosses can be successful elsewhere.
Healy has the qualities to do the same.
Crucially, he has learnt from his mistakes as a manager, and he’ll admit there’s been a few, while tactically he is astute and his man management is excellent with the strong relationships he builds with players evidence of that. The Linfield dressing room, policed superbly by Jamie Mulgrew and Jimmy Callacher, is a good one which is why the club have dominated so much in recent years. Believe me, not all dressing rooms in Irish League football are as conducive to success.
Another factor is that, in conjunction with Willie McKeown, Healy tends to sign well, looking for character off the pitch as much as class on it and he improves players dramatically — Shayne Lavery being a prime example.
The 42-year-old also takes a Sir Alex Ferguson-like interest across the club, can wind up other managers with mind games just like his old Manchester United inspiration and is not one to get carried away.
Linfield assistant manager Ross Oliver says: “David has worked incredibly hard since his appointment in 2015 and he has delivered time and time again.
“I think the key to our success is we just don’t stop working. Whenever we win, our focus turns immediately to the next target. Our players are mentality monsters and David is a big part of that.”
You would think at some point in the not-too-distant future, an English or Scottish club would make a move for Healy. It would be a shrewd one.
For now, Linfield fans should feel fortunate to have the goal getter turned trophy hunter at the helm.