Healy hoping to finish the job

Brendan O’Brien

He won’t be alone, one or two Cork forwards will be just as mystified as the name of David Clarke stares out at them from the list of Ballina substitutes.

Were the Allstars picked in mid-March the bookies would have already stopped taking odds on Clarke winning the number one shirt.

Ask Reynolds who was denied three goals by the 22-year-old when Offaly and Mayo met in Tullamore last Sunday.

Need more proof? Fine. Give Brendan Jer O’Sullivan, Kevin O’Sullivan or John Hayes a ring.

All three were frustrated by the youngster in the space of just nine minutes the week before.

John Healy smiles awkwardly at the mention of Clarke. The 27-year-old builder is the man keeping Mayo’s first choice custodian out of the Ballina team for today’s appointment with Portlaoise, just as he has done all season. He doesn’t need telling that one or two more eyes than normal will be monitoring his performance at headquarters.

“It’s unfortunate that myself and David are around at the same time,” says Healy. “It’s well documented by now that Mayo have plenty of keepers. The county situation is one thing but the club is different. It might be great for the club but it’s not easy on the management.

“For myself and David as well it’s not too nice. The competition is so tight. I suppose it raises the standards though. He pushes me and I push him. If he wasn’t here I don’t think I would be either.”

You can’t help but feel for Healy’s predicament every bit as much as Clarke’s. He’s been the Stephenites’ main man between the sticks ever since he was 16. His involvement with Mayo has been far patchier, a couple of games in ‘99 after Ballina’s visit to Croker for Paddy’s Day followed by a more concerted run in last year’s league.

It’s hard to see him feature under John Maughan again, having been dropped last year with the suggestion that he had been a stop-gap selection.

It’s not the first Maughan/Ballina row. His ‘feud of silence’ with David Brady is well-known, while Ballina manager Tommy Lyons has questioned the presence of just one Ballina man in Mayo’s first XV last September.

“There would be a lot of people around these parts who wouldn’t be too happy with that,” admits Healy. “It’s a funny enough situation. The powerhouse of football in Mayo is Ballina, Knockmore and Crossmolina and there was only a handful of players from those three teams on the Mayo side against Kerry.

“That’s not taking anything away from the players that were on it. They’re all fine players and well worth their place on the panel. It’s just funny the way it’s worked out.”

Talk of Mayo is very much a sideshow to Healy and Ballina this week though. Today offers them the chance to expunge the memory of six years ago, when they hit 17 wides when losing to Crossmaglen by a point in the decider.

For the six players still remaining from that side, different snapshots of the day remain. Captain Brian Ruane remembers the cheer the team bus got as they passed a large Ballina contingent outside the Big Tree on Dorset Street.

Forward Ger Brady recalls watching the first half of the hurling final and little else while Healy will tell you about how he cornered selector Gerry Leonard in the warm-up area, his nerves shot to pieces, insisting he just ‘couldn’t do this’.

And yet, what all of them remember most is the sickening feeling in their stomach when the referee blew that final whistle. “It was such a heart-breaking day for the club. I think that’s been one of the motivating factors for the older players this year, to get back to Croke Park and finish the job we left behind that day. It’s like a ghost floating around the club and that ghost won’t be put to bed until we win an All-Ireland title.

“The final whistle was heart-breaking but the outstanding memory for me was getting back into Ballina on the bus the following night. There was a line of kids on either side of the road waving green and red flags. On the day itself it all goes so quick but the day after and the few years after is when it really sunk in, what we had left behind.”

Somehow, it seems only right that Healy will get to play his part second time around.

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