David Healy has confirmed what every Northern Ireland fan loved to suspect, by saying the greatest memories of his career are from international duty.
He has also hit out at his former team-mates who pick and choose when to represent their country.
Healy, who last week announced he is retiring from the game, scored an unforgettable hat-trick against Spain in September 2006, but he says he topped that six months later with a second trio of goals against Liechtenstein and a brace against heavyweights Sweden.
He said: “It was probably the best 14 days of my career. I scored for Leeds before meeting up and I have a broken elbow.
“We then went to Liechtenstein and I managed to get a hat-trick. Then came the Sweden game. Dennis [Wise, Leeds manager called me to say ‘right, I’m coming over to watch you play for your country to see what I am doing wrong or what you are doing wrong so we can get it right at Leeds’.
“Then I went and scored again and the fans were chanting ‘are you watching Dennis Wise’ and he had a real chuckle at that.
“I spoke to him straight after the game and he said I would play 90 minutes in the next game no matter how I was playing.
“It was a live TV game against my old club Preston and I had a shocker. Nothing went right but then one hit off the top of my head and went in for the winner.
“We couldn’t believe it and still talk about it.”
Healy’s trove of seemingly limitless, sacred jewels from his 85 caps, modestly stored in his own shy heart or splashed across newspapers, is awe-inspiring. He even admits his resolute commitment and appetite for answering his country’s call may have hampered his career, perhaps with managers finding it hard to believe the devotion he felt for Northern Ireland could be matched in the day job.
He therefore bristles with frustration at those who shrug off international duty as an inconvenience.
“Even if I was only 20 per cent fit I wanted to play,” he added. “It annoyed me when some people would pick and choose their games and I think it annoys most players.
“But what I do know for sure is that it annoys coaches and managers even more. They do so much preparation before the squad meets up and if a club phones on the day to say their player won’t be there, so much time has been wasted – especially if it is a player who would have played.
“That has ruined things more than once and it did annoy me. Players should be there because they want to be there.
“I had one manager who asked me not to go to a few internationals on more than one occasion.
“He said it would not benefit me at the club when I got back but I made a stand every time.
“Maybe my club career suffered a bit down the years because of it but I just wanted to play for Northern Ireland.”