By Joe Behan
Northern Ireland 1, Denmark 1
David Healy scored a brilliant goal for Northern Ireland that turned out to be the highlight of this World Cup qualifier in which Denmark left Windsor Park disappointed. The Danes missed many good chances, but Sammy McIlroy still found room to be angry as he strongly felt the Denmark goal was offside.
McIlroy was delighted though with Healy’s 38th minute goal. The Manchester United reserve scored a "magnificent goal, one of the best I’ve seen," said the Northern Ireland boss. "To beat someone like Schmeichel from that range — 25 yards — was amazing."
McIlroy has already got off with a tremendous opening win in the World Cup qualifiers in group three. The Irish beat Malta 1-nil thanks to a 70th minute goal by Phil Gray.
In the game against Malta, debutant midfielder Stuart Elliot, who came close just before the break, was taken out after the hour and on came Gray after a two-year absence from international football. Within 10 minutes the Burnley striker made up for lost time and his World Cup dream goal sent the Belfast crowd at Windsor Park into frenzy.
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It was a great team goal to open the tournament as it saw four players combine. The Irish dominated most of the game against Malta and missed chance after chance but matters were somewhat reversed against Denmark.
Malta were dangerous on the counterattack and McIlroy did not quite button things up defensively for the Denmark draw. However, the goals in both games were world class and that’s all good for Sammy. But the Irish manager wants results really bad. He was cautioned in the Maltese game by Russian referee Taras Bezubiak after the ex-Man. Utd. player danced onto the pitch after his side scored. The relief was so obvious as a victory was really the only result that was good enough on the day. Early days perhaps it was, and not the strongest of opponents, but McIlroy was expected to beat the likes of Malta.
Northern Ireland is in one tough group, with strong nations like Denmark and the Czech Republic, both with opening victories. Iceland and Bulgaria are by no means easy tasks and it will be interesting to see how the new Irish manager works out with a respectful four points from two games.
The North manager
Sammy McIlroy was was born in Belfast on Aug. 2, 1954. He began his career in management with Preston North End as a Player/Manager in 1990 before moving to Northwich Victoria in 1992 for one season. He had a short spell in 1993 with Ashton United before moving to Macclesfield Town later in 1993. He remained there until January 2000. Then he took up the reins as Northern Ireland International Team manager.
As a player, he played more than 600 League games, the majority of which were with Manchester United. His other clubs as a player were Stoke City, Manchester City, Bury and Preston North End. He made 88 international appearances and played in two World Cups, Spain ’82 and Mexico ’86, where he captained the team. He wasn’t the quickest of players but he made decisions with flair that caught the eye. He was tricky and good in tight situations. He scored some great goals and was a household name on both sides of the water and the border.
Recently, McIlroy made some stern statements regarding players’ national participation. He wants to bring back the pride in playing for your country. The Irish coach is demanding that players are released from clubs and that international duty should be given more of the spotlight. Having played himself in the World Cup will prove to be the biggest influence on his upcoming team. It is interesting to note that the Republic qualified when another ex-World Cup player, Jack Charlton, (perhaps England may employ him now) took the reins.
McIlroy may have less experience, but Northern Irish soccer history will make up for that. Now the Belfast native may find himself on a world stage within a couple of years with a nation who expects to get there like before and who have a big impact on the game itself.
On Nov. 18, 1880, a historic meeting took place at Queens Hotel in Belfast that was to have major effects on the administration of football in Ireland. At the invitation of Cliftonville F.C, clubs in Belfast and district adhering to the rules of the Scottish Football Association met to form the Irish Football Association. Its aims were to promote, foster and develop the game throughout Ireland.
At the foundational meeting of the IFA, the new Association elected its first president, Major Spencer Chichester. Agreements were drawn up to stage an annual Challenge Cup Competition. In the first-ever Cup final, Moyola Park defeated Cliftonville 1-0 in the 1880-81 season.
The IFA’s first iInternational undertaking was against England at the Knock Ground, Bloomfield, in East Belfast, in 1882. Ireland lost 13-0, but the gate receipts amounted to £9.19s 7d.
Not the start that the IFA would have wanted but success was to come in the long run. The wee nation reached the World Cup Finals in 1958 Sweden, 1982 Spain, and 1986 Mexico. There has been some world-class players over the years and many of them were recognized on the international scene. Players such as Peter Doherty, Danny Blanchflower, Pat Jennings and George Best, the most gifted player, would have graced any World Cup 11 selected from the world’s finest. One cannot forget probably the greatest performance by an Irish side in the World Cup in Spain, when Norman Whiteside became the youngest player to play it the tournament.
Over a century after its formation, the IFA still play an important part in the rules and development of the game. The association continues to promote the world’s most popular sport alongside FIFA and The International F.A. Board of which the IFA is a constituent part together with England, Scotland and Wales. The background is there and it would not come as a surprise to see Northern Ireland contribute, on the field, in the up coming 2002 World Cup.
Northern Ireland is in third place after Bulgaria beat Malta 3-nil, while Czech Republic crashed 4 against Iceland. Republic of Ireland, third place also in their group, drew 1-all with Portugal away after Matt Holland leveled matters with a fantastic strike. Veteran striker Romario hopefully booked his ticket to the 2002 World Cup after he added to last month’s hat trick against Bolivia by scoring four goals as Brazil destroyed Venezuela 6-0.