Northern Ireland striker David Healy announces retirement

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Healy says the time was right to retire

Northern Ireland's all-time leading goal-scorer David Healy has announced his retirement.

The striker, who scored 36 goals in 95 international appearances, has been without a club since leaving Bury at the end of last season.

"I don't think too many people will be surprised. I have been without a club for five months," said Healy, 34.

"It's dawned on me that it's time for a new challenge. The career is over and it's time to move on."

Healy scored twice on his international debut against Luxembourg in 2000 and played his final game for his country when coming on as a late substitute in the defeat by Israel at Windsor Park in March of this year.

After an unhappy one-year spell at Bury ended last summer, Healy still harboured hopes of prolonging his playing career and achieving his great ambition of reaching 100 Northern Ireland caps.

However, he was unable to find a new club and Healy has now accepted that his playing career is over.

"I didn't enjoy my last six months at Bury because of a number of circumstances.

"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."

Healy's place in Northern Ireland sporting folklore was immediately assured after he blasted in his country's winner in the shock World Cup qualifier win over England at Windsor Park in September 2005.

The County Down man went on to score a record 13 goals in the following European Championship qualifying campaign as Northern Ireland narrowly missed progressing to the finals in Austria and Switzerland after wins over Spain, Sweden and Denmark.

"At the time, the England goal was just another goal," added the Killyleagh man.

"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.

"In the following European Championship campaign, everything just went in."

Healy began his club career at Manchester United as a youth player but made only three appearances for the Old Trafford giants before signing for Championship club Preston North End in 2001.

His three-year spell at Deepdale saw him scoring 45 goals in 139 appearances in what was his most successful period in club football.

A further three-year stint at Leeds United was followed by a move to Premier League club Fulham as he was signed by his previous Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez.

Healy scored four goals in 30 appearances for the Cottagers before transferring to another Premier League outfit Sunderland in 2008.

However, Healy only managed 13 appearances and one goal in his stint with the Black Cats and after loan spells with Ipswich and Doncaster, the striker fulfilled a boyhood dream when he signed for Rangers in 2011.

Healy did help Rangers win the Scottish League Cup but he was released by the Ibrox club 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.

"When I was at Preston, I was scoring a lot of goals and at Leeds I was leading scorer nearly every year even though I was playing in various positions.

"Sunderland and Fulham were different because it's a different standard altogether."

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