Remember ‘the wee fella from Derry’ who played at the World Cup

Felix Healy, Coleraine F.C. player with manager Jim Platt.  Pacemaker Press Intl. 12/1/85''58/85/BW
Felix Healy, Coleraine F.C. player with manager Jim Platt. Pacemaker Press Intl. 12/1/85''58/85/BW

Felix Healy’s proud record of being the last Irish League player to play for Northern Ireland at a major championship could end very soon.

The former Coleraine man was part of the legendary 1982 World Cup squad, who famously saw off hosts Spain.

The silky midfielder came off the bench to take on Honduras in the second group game. To this day that remains the last appearance from an Irish League player at a major tournament.

Now Roy Carroll could put that record to bedafter the keeper joined Linfield before jetting off to France for the Euros. Healy though still has the memories of that magical time back at the start of the 80s.

He impressed in two British Championship games against Wales and Scotland before being called up to the training squad in Brighton. Healy though felt out of place from the off.

“The guys had qualified. I had absolutely nothing to do with it,” he told the Irish Examiner.

“It was like being invited to a wedding and being asked to go take part in the honeymoon. It was a strange thing. I felt I was good enough to play in the team. I didn’t have any qualms about that, but they were a very established team.”

Healy’s moment though came 78 minutes into the second group game, the 1-1 draw against Honduras, when he replaced Martin O’Neill.

Four days later and he was standing on the sideline at the Estadio Luiz Casanova in Valencia with the North 1-0 up against the hosts and waiting to be brought on until Mal Donaghy got himself sent off. Bingham called for Sammy Nelson instead and Healy didn’t take it well.

“I would have loved to have played and it was so close,” he said.

“It is difficult when you are so close to the team and events like that, so my recollection of the last 45 minutes against Spain is a wee bit different to everybody else’s.

“Everyone who played that day had the following day off and everyone who hadn’t had to train and to say I wasn’t in the best of form is putting it lightly. I took the huff and I was dropped from the bench for the last two matches. And, to be honest, rightly so.”

They made up and Healy was selected for a European Championship game against Austria, but just as he was establishing himself he ripped his thigh against Linfield, which kept him out for 18 months and his moment was gone.

The memories are still there though, as Felix took his place among the great and the good of world football.

“It was a great World Cup,” he said. “The one thing that always sticks in my head is we were getting on to the plane after the Honduras match and (journalist) Charlie Stuart talks to me on the runway and says, ‘the wee fella from Derry will always be able to say that he played in a World Cup’.”