NORTHERN Ireland’s record goal-scorer, David Healy, has announced his retirement.
The 34-year-old striker scored 36 goals in 95 international appearances – including a memorable run of 13 goals in the 2008 European Championship qualifying campaign.
However, the Co Down footballer has been without a club since leaving League Two side Bury at the end of last season.
In a statement he said: ‘I am today announcing my immediate retirement as a player from professional football. After a playing career, of some 18 years, the point has come for me to move on to a new challenge.
“’I have had so many memorable moments at all the clubs I have had the honour of wearing the shirt for, I thank them and the supporters. But it’s as a Northern Ireland player the memories will always be closest to my heart.
“It has been an absolute honour and privilege to wear the Northern Ireland shirt, to represent the people of our proud wee country and I hope to continue in my new career in coaching, to help Northern Ireland succeed.”
Healy established a successful and lengthy international career, scoring twice on his international debut against Luxembourg in 2000, but was unable achieve his ultimate ambition of reaching 100 caps for Northern Ireland.
The Killyleagh man played his final game for his country earlier this year when he came on as a late substitute in the defeat by Israel at Windsor Park.
Hopes for extending his playing career ended after Healy was unable to find a new club following an unhappy year at Bury, which ended last summer.
“I didn’t enjoy my last six months at Bury because of a number of circumstances,” he said.
“I still thought in the summer that I was capable and would be fit enough if I got a good pre-season under my belt.
“But that didn’t happen and it’s hard going down to the gym and doing 20 or 30 minutes of aerobic stuff on your own.
“It would have been great to have achieved 100 caps but at the same time I didn’t want to be getting token caps.”
One of Healy’s most memorable performances on the pitch came when he scored his country’s winner in the shock World Cup qualifier win over England at Windsor Park in September 2005.
“At the time, the England goal was just another goal,” Healy added.
“But as the months went on, people were stopping you in the street and asking me about that goal. I was very lucky, honoured and proud to have been the one to score the goal that night.
“People always say, ‘he found it difficult (in the Premier League)’ and yes I probably did”
He continued his goal-scoring form to net 13 more in the following European Championship qualifying campaign, where Northern Ireland narrowly missed progressing to the finals in Austria and Switzerland after wins over Spain, Sweden and Denmark.
This led to him receiving an award from Uefa President Michel Platini to mark his record 13 goals in the 2008 qualifiers. He also collected an MBE from Buckingham Palace that same year.
Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill said: “David Healy has and will always be an iconic player in the eyes of all Northern Ireland fans.
“His commitment to playing for Northern Ireland is an example to all current and future international players.
“I know that David will have a lot to offer the game as he embarks on his coaching career.
“I would like to thank David for his contribution to football in Northern Ireland and I look forward to working with him in the future.”
Healy began his club career at Manchester United after being signed by then Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson as a youth player, but he only made three appearances for the team before signing for Championship club Preston North End in 2001.
His three years at Deepdale were his most successful in club football; he scored 45 goals in 139 appearances.
A three-year stint at Leeds United followed, before he moved to Premier League club Fulham.
Healy scored four goals in 30 appearances at Fulham before another Premier League transfer to Sunderland in 2008.
After loan spells with Ipswich and Doncaster the striker fulfilled a boyhood dream when he signed for Rangers in 2011.
Healy helped Rangers win the Scottish League Cup but he was released before signing for Bury in 2012.
“People always say, ‘he found it difficult (in the Premier League)’ and yes I probably did because people find their level.”