At the halfway point Northern Ireland sat proudly atop the pile, above two time World Champions France. However, despite my attempted positivity in citing the old cliché that points > games in hand, I knew that we were building our house on sand rather than a solid rock.
Moldova at Windsor was to be taken as an assumed three points but the formidable France away (Middle French language theft very much intended) and a double header against a talent laden Norway were not to be taken as lightly. Griezmann, Mbappé, Coman, Dembélé, Lemar, Pogba, Rabiot, Tolisso, Ajer, Ødegaard and Håland would not be forgiving opposition.
Still, the task at hand is not necessarily International progression for the team but, rather, goalden glory for Choy and Coyle.
Matchday 5 v Norway (away)
Choy was injured and would miss both of September’s fixtures. A dire situation.
The aforementioned Norwegian stars were too hot to handle and, thus, we are on the backfoot already. Stephen Coyle’s 75th minute strike gave brief thought to a possible revival but Ødegaard (now a started for Real Madrid) made sure of the Scandinavian victory.
It’s a familiar scenario as a long ball from deep sets Stephen Coyle bearing down on goal. The finish is neat but not enough.
International Friendly v Mexico (neutral)
International friendlies. My stomach churns at the mere thought of a meaningless encounter halfway around the world. We take to the stage in the famous footballing theatre of Denver, Colorado. A wasted trip. Bring back competitive fixtures.
Matchday 6 v Moldova (home)
The victory as expected. Expected but delightful nonetheless. A double for Coyle and Choy, on his return from injury, getting his name on the scoresheet too.
Power, precision, penalty. Add in a questionable celebration.
The second was slightly more easy on the eyes. That famous trio linking up again as Lewis throws short to McNair. Coyle peels free at the near post to side foot home on his ‘weaker’ foot. Weeker indeed – Belfast parlance lesson for the unaware.
The third is all about Jamal Lewis again. Newcastle’s £44m rated left back rampages down the wing but sees his shot parried into the path of our Choy. Choy Yiu Fai has the simplest of touches goalward.
Matchday 7 v France (away)
Stuart Dallas’ thunder strike raised the roof in Bordeaux but the collective might of a star studded Les Bleus came roaring back to blow us away in style.
Matchday 8 v Norway (home)
Choy misses the November double header through injury again.
Ødegaard’s early penalty heaped unnecessary extra pressure on us at a packed out Windsor Park but it was Stephen Coyle’s goal just after the hour that left us with a sliver of hope.
The goalkeeper probably should have done better but it’s another great dead ball strike from Stephen Coyle. What a perfect TV angle too.
International Friendly v South Africa (home)
Another friendly. This time the home crowd couldn’t even be bothered to fill Windsor out to its 18k capacity, thoughts elsewhere on a crucial Norway v Israel match which would decide our fate.
We ran out 4-1 winners in the friendly, McNair stretching his goal tally to 5 for our wee country. The Norway v Israel match finished 3-0 in Norway’s favour, when we needed a draw to benefit us. Damn shame.
UEFA World Cup Qualifying Group 8
We finish in third, our hopes for a first World Cup finals since 1986 dashed again. That said, it we didn’t disgrace ourselves and will have hope for the Euro qualifiers when they come about. France were rampant, hardly surpising with the talent at their disposal.
This brings us up to the end of 2025 in game. I’ve been away from Glentoran for 6 months and they’ve managed to hold on to Choy and Coyle so far – which I’ll admit is a slight disappointment as I’d like to see them secure big money moves to a higher rep club in a more challenging environment.
Here’s how things stand:
David Healy: 95 caps / 36 goals
Stephen Coyle: 25 caps / 18 goals
Choy Yiu Fai: 14 caps / 6 goals