Healy’s long road back to good times

Cork City FC’s climb back towards the summit of Irish football this season hasn’t gone unnoticed in Irish football circles.

Healy’s long road back to good times

The increased TV coverage and the arrival of vulture-like scouts at home games are signs of a team in demand. Last night’s full house also bodes well. In and around Cork some people seem anxious to understand just why the team’s fortunes have changed. Many more, it seems, are happy to give you their own two shillings worth.

The return of club legend John Caulfield as manager was a boost, of this there is no doubt. The acquisition of some key new players together with young players maturing and the successful integration of Mark O’Sullivan from Munster Senior League football have been major factors.

But another reason, perhaps the least emphasised to date, is Colin Healy’s return to top form in midfield.

Of course you won’t hear this from the player himself. Healy is adamant he left his top form behind him (or perhaps had it taken from him) whilst playing a Championship match for Sunderland against Coventry in 2003. That day a reckless tackle broke Healy’s fibula and tibia. Healy is still adamant, “with that tackle went my top-flight career”.

A two-and-a-half year battle to regain fitness followed, a period of struggle not helped by the recurrence of the same break in the same area of his leg.

It was a difficult time but he found the routine of rehab in the pool and gym every day with other longer-term injured players kept him sane and healthy.

Eventually Sunderland would let him go, seeing him as too much of a risk. That his injuries had occurred under their gainful employment was not fully acknowledged. But Healy holds no grudges and is particularly exonerating of then manager Mick McCarthy.

“Mick was always very good to me,” he said. “I always felt he was a very approachable and a very decent man.”

That summer Healy found clubs weren’t interested in a player with his injury history.

“It was a tough time. I had initially done well at Celtic, before moving to Sunderland and getting into the Irish team. Then the tackle happened and a few years later I had barely played a game for a few years and nobody wanted to touch me.”

An old colleague from his Celtic days, Paul Lambert, would finally come offering a chance back into first team football, albeit back at Scotland with Livingstone. Healy did well and outlasted Lambert, who was sacked within a few weeks of his arrival. After this successful return to first team football Barnsley came looking for him and he joined for the 2006-’07 season in the Championship. However all did not go to plan.

“I felt I couldn’t deal with the standard in the Championship anymore. Tackling had always been a big part of my game. Without it (because of the injuries) I was less of a player, and that year in the Championship I really struggled.”

A return to Cork City followed in 2007, and despite a much publicised Fifa three club rule delaying his, and fellow former Irish international, Gareth Farrelly’s debuts, he won an FAI Cup winners medal in his first season; his first silverware since his time at Celtic.

A difficult period for the club in 2008 included Healy chipping his collarbone and missing the tail end of the season but in 2009 Paul Doolin arrived at the club, and to the rescue, for Healy.

“I really feel Paul Doolin’s training sessions were a huge help to me. The sessions were top notch.

“He was the best coach for me, maybe the right coach that I needed at that stage of my career, to push me back towards better standards. It’s down to him that I got the move to Ipswich really.”

Cork City’s financial woes that season led to the fire sale of Healy to Roy Keane’s Ipswich. Within a few weeks he had played against a top Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge and beaten Arsenal at Portman Road in the first leg of the League Cup. “That night against Arsenal, I felt like I had been rewarded for all the work I had done to come back. It was great to experience that.”

An inevitable return to his home in Cork happened in 2012 but Healy felt somewhat out of kilter until this year. “I found it difficult training in the evenings these last few years. I much prefer training in the mornings and planning my day around that. (This year) I find I can organise my rest and eating better because of it.”

A simple change, but maybe the reason Healy is finding better form and City are more stable this season. When asked himself, Healy is quick to mention Caulfield as the reason for the club’s resurgence. As a player who has played under Wim Jansen, John Barnes, Kenny Dalglish, Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane, Healy is well placed to assess a manager. Speaking of his current manager, he is not unique in finding a similarity between Caulfield and current Ireland manager Martin O’Neill.

Healy would know better than most given the fact he won a league and league cup for Celtic under O’Neill in 2001. If he does win something similar under Caulfield this year, it would be hard to find anyone more deserving.

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