Rover and out for David Healy?
Speaking to me recently, former Northern Ireland assistant manager Terry Gibson reflected on his time in the international arena.
What struck him most, in what turned into a rollercoaster few years, was what he described as the ‘David Healy factor’.
In all his time in football, Gibbo revealed that he had never seen a player more popular with fans than Healy and the Northern Ireland faithful.
“They loved him. He really was a national hero,” said Gibson, recalling the adulation that came Healy’s way when he was scoring those winning goals against England, Spain and the rest.
The love is still there for Healy. I doubt it will ever waiver for a down to earth man who has scored more goals for his country (35 in 84 games) than George Best, Gerry Armstrong and Norman Whiteside combined.
Recently, however, questions have been raised about whether Healy’s record breaking race is run with Northern Ireland.
The celebratory smiles that became such a feature of news and sports pages here have been replaced by frowns.
He hasn’t scored for his country in over two years and some will say that he hasn’t played club football for the same length of time. It’s not quite as bad as that, but the point is taken. Not least by the man himself, who yesterday moved on-loan for a month to mid-table Championship side Doncaster Rovers.
Out of first-team favour at Sunderland virtually from the day he arrived from Fulham in the summer of 2008, Healy made 12 appearances on-loan at Ipswich Town last term.
This season he has not had a sniff at the Stadium of Light, playing meaningless reserve matches in front of less people than his hometown club Killyleagh YC attract on a Saturday.
His confidence and match sharpness have suffered. So too Northern Ireland, who have relied so heavily on him to score goals for the last decade.
After being critical of Healy’s lack of first-team football in the past, lately Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington has put an arm around his striker with more positive comments.
Worthington will be pleased to see Healy move to Doncaster, who have injury problems in attack, so the ex-Manchester United ace is set to see some action at last.
It will do him the world of good.
Instead of feeling down and frustrated and wondering how his career has dipped so alarmingly, he’ll start to feel like a footballer again.
Self belief will gradually return. Hopefully the goals will too.
Kyle Lafferty has impressed in the Euro 2012 qualifiers to date, but without Healy in goalscoring form, it will be an almighty and virtually impossible ask for Worthington’s side to make the finals.
Healy loves his football and will watch just about every game going. He’s been doing too much watching.
Time to get out there playing and scoring. I’m sure the knack of hitting the net is still there. He just has to find it.
Doncaster have given David a break and it’s up to him to prove it’s not Rover and out.
He needs to do it for himself first and foremost. And in turn Northern Ireland will benefit.
Hopefully soon we’ll see that smile on David’s face again.