Healy has first team place in his sights

By Bill George,

Healy is 22 and on the threshold of a major career at club and international level and needing a breakthrough to first-team football at Celtic sooner rather than later.

He is now in his fifth season at Parkhead and there have been signs in Celtic’s pre-season friendlies that at last a serious attempt at finding a regular spot for him in the team is underway.

It is 12 months since Celtic played in Cork and manager Martin O’Neill spoke then of how important the unfolding season would be for Healy. But it did not work out for him as Celtic went on to win the League Championship.

O’Neill kept faith with Paul Lennon and Paul Lambert in the central midfield positions where Healy likes to perform. Lennon was O’Neill’s on-field enforcer and general while Lambert showed the form that caused Scotland’s new manager Berti Vogts express regret that he had retired from international football.

The pressure of producing weekly results to hold off the challenge of Rangers meant that O’Neill stood by his experienced players.

When Lennon and Lambert were not available or needed a break he used Moravcik or Stilian Petrov and Healy saw little first-team action.

But his loan spell to Coventry City near the end of the season worked wonders for the modest young midfielder. He was an ever-present in the Coventry team and impressed all, including Ireland’s manager Mick McCarthy who quickly nominated him for the friendly match against Russia at Lansdowne Road in February.

Coventry’s former captain and Ireland’s centre-back Gary Breen was one of those who spoke in enthusiastic terms about the ability of young Healy.

“He is a very good player who has a wide range of passing ability and he is very competitive, he wants to win” said Breen. “Not only that but he is a very nice person and I wish him well for the future.”

Breen spoke to me of his potential when Healy went through the disappointment of getting a call to join Ireland’s World Cup squad in Saipan only to have it cancelled within 24 hours.

Hopefully Healy will have put that well behind him and he will be positive and driven again when he is selected for Ireland’s match against Finland on August 21.

It is debatable, however, whether he will succeed in supplanting any of Celtic’s regular midfielders in the immediate future. Lennon, Lambert and Petrov are all very much part of Celtic’s squad again this season.

O’Neill has, however, indicated that it is time to regard Healy as a first-team player by selecting him in defence in the pre-season friendlies.

He has been playing on the right of the three-man central defensive formation that Celtic favour.

Healy was first spotted by the former Celtic and Cork City midfielder, Mick Conroy, who he joined on a FÁS course that was being run in Cork by Conroy. On his recommendation Celtic took Healy on trial and very quickly offered him a contract.

“His three months with Coventry did Colin a lot of good. He is quiet by nature but he blossomed when he was given regular first-team football and it did a lot for his confidence,” said Conroy.

“The competition in central midfield at Celtic is fierce and the pressure to produce results in every match means the manager will tend to stick to the tried and trusted. But Lennon and Lambert are not getting younger and it remains to be seen whether they can play every week for a full season.

“The good thing is Colin is very versatile. He can play right-back or right of midfield as well and I expect he will see a lot of first-team football this season.

“The important thing is he is very upbeat about Celtic and determined to make a career there. There have been a few changes at Celtic and while he may not get into the team straight away in his favourite position, the manager knows his time at Coventry has left him ready for the next challenge.”

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