Hot-shot Healy shows up Premier League pretenders
The leading scorer in Euro 2008 qualifying will come down to earth on Friday when he runs out for a team bottom of the English second division for whom he struggles to hold down a first-team place.
The relegation woes of Leeds United took a back seat for a few days as Northern Ireland’s David Healy scored a hat-trick against Liechtenstein and both goals in a 2-1 win over Sweden.
That made it nine goals in six qualifiers as Northern Ireland claimed top spot in their group above the Swedes, Spain and Denmark. His overall tally is 29 goals in 56 appearances – and that for a team who went 13 games without scoring not too long ago.
What Wayne Rooney would give for such a return after failing to score a competitive international goal for almost three years.
So how has Healy outscored more feted and far better paid strikers so comfortably? Perhaps the international experience doesn’t motivate players used to performing in front of huge crowds in major competitions as much as it does those whose bread and butter soccer is a little more mundane.
The step from a Champions League game against Barcelona in ram-full Camp Nou to an international against Andorra in the same city’s sparsely filled Olympic Stadium can hardly be described as up.
But when Healy says he feels as much pride playing for his country now as he did on his first appearance, you believe him. When the former Manchester United trainee says his country’s success is due to hard work and a great spirit, you can only wonder why such qualities are absent elsewhere.
An earlier post on this blog asked for nominations for Europe’s unsung heroes. How about Healy for starters?
Mitch Phillips is head of UK sports reporting for Reuters