Four magical Northern Irish forwards that were good but not Best!
Sam Barnard, Assistant Sports Editor | November 24, 2015
For years, even decades, now, Northern Ireland (200/1 with Coral to win Euro 2016) have tried but failed to unearth and nurture talent in the form of the gem that was George Best.
However, on the 10th anniversary of the Manchester United legend’s death, we have come up with four names that have come closest.
While none of the below were anywhere near to the late great in terms of ability and world dominance, which saw him earn honours such as the Ballon d’Or and European Cup in 1968, they still had their flashes of brilliance.
So, in apt timing too to Northern Ireland’s first ever qualification for a European Championship recently, the 2016 France finals, here are our picks…
We start off with perhaps the least talented of the quartet, but someone who certainly was capable of magic moments. Healy started his career with promise, coming through Man Utd’s youth academy, as Best did, but the comparisons end there really.
He played seasons in the Premier League, but it was his performances for Preston North End, Leeds United and most notably Northern Ireland that earned him cult hero status. Known for creating something out of nothing, though often going missing for the rest of matches, he certainly couldn’t be accused of being inconsistent for his country.
Healy’s best achievement is no doubt hitting an incredible match-winning hat-trick against soon-to-be champions Spain in Euro 2008 qualifying, a campaign in which he managed a still-unbeaten record total of 13 goals. The forward is also the Green and White Army’s highest ever scorer, by a huge 20, with 36 from 95 caps.
In terms of skill and flair, McCourt had it all; in terms of desire and determination, however, that is where all went wrong for the current 31-year-old Luton Town winger.
His nicknames in the past such as the ‘new George Best’ and the ‘Derry Pele’ say it all about the former Rochdale, Celtic and Barnsley magician, who was once linked with a move to Liverpool at the peak of his powers.
Injuries and general lack of effort have hindered McCourt’s career, but no one can argue that on his day he produced such outstanding genius and mazy runs, often leaving many defenders on their backsides – not too dissimilar to Best.
Now in charge of Northern Ireland’s southern neighbours, O’Neill actually bettered Best’s career trophy haul and was a two-time European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest, as he once let Fabio Cannavaro know…
O’Neill did play alongside Best for his nation, and in a similar position, but appeared on the international scene years after the latter’s debut and no doubt learned a trick or two from him.
Back his current Republic of Ireland team to go all the way next summer in the Euros at a tasty 80/1 price.
The world really was Whiteside’s oyster, as back in 1982 against Yugoslavia he broke Pele’s record of being the youngest person ever to play at a World Cup at the age of just 17 and 41 days – and it still stands!
Just as Best’s career was coming to an end, where he was playing out in the USA and Hong Kong at the time, Man Utd and Northern Ireland fans were no doubt getting excited when the young Whiteside was emerging and showing unbelievable maturity in his displays.
Winning two FA Cups and turning out for the Red Devils and then later Everton, as well as earning 38 caps for Northern Ireland, one more than Best, is certainly no failure in the game. However, injuries eventually caught up on Whiteside and he was forced to retire at just 26.