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Northern Ireland: Michael O’Neill’s team can get ‘better and better’ says Sammy McIlroy


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While his winning goal in a World Cup qualifier against England at Windsor Park is certainly another contender, likely Healy’s most memorable night in the green jersey came against Saturday’s opponents Spain, his hat-trick in a 3-2 win in 2006 beating a side who would go on and dominate international football for the next several years.

McIlroy enjoyed some red letter days against the Spanish himself, from his debut in 1972, through to his role in the unforgettable World Cup triumph in 1982, and a 0-0 draw at Windsor Park in 2003 that was perhaps his best result as his country’s manager.

Fifty two years on, McIlroy’s memories of his first cap remain remarkably clear.

Being stood up by Manchester United team-mate George Best on the train platform, rooming with his soon-to-be midfield partner Martin O’Neill, and the physical nature of the Spanish opposition in a game that finished 1-1, can all be recalled vividly.

If he has one regret about the occasion, which came when he was just 17-years-old and three months on from his United debut, it is that the game was played in the unusual location of Hull City’s Boothferry Park due to the political unrest at the time in Belfast.

“Everything was going like a rollercoaster. I didn’t have time to be nervous. Everything was going so quick.,” McIlroy recalled.

“Even though I was still excited, and my mum and dad got over from Belfast to watch the game, there was that little tinge of sadness that it wasn’t at Windsor Park.”

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