Colin Healy is prepared to put his aversion to Dundalk’s artificial pitch aside tonight for the sake of hunting his first league winners’ medal at the age of 34.
The Cork City midfielder had just turned 21 when his first and last piece of silverware was collected, flanking Neil Lennon and Paul Lambert in a Celtic side victorious over Kilmarnock in the 2001 Scottish League Cup final.
Misfortune, in the shape of two years out of game due to successive broken legs, conspired against him adding to that sole medal, yet the concluding day of the title race represents a stage for redemption.
City manager John Caulfield didn’t include Healy in his team on the last trip to Co Louth, the 4-0 defeat in May, but the decisive nature of this fixture removes the concern of certain players feeling the after-effects of the surface.
Although Caulfield shares the view of his Shamrock Rovers counterpart Pat Fenlon that the pitch is unsuitable for professional football, he, along with his most experienced trooper Healy, are dismissing it as a factor in the outcome.
“There might be a different bounce of the ball but we can’t do anything about it,” said the midfielder, included on Tuesday amongst the quartet of PFAI Player of the Year nominees.
“We’ve all played on astroturf and now we’ve got to get on with it.”
Getting by, rather than getting on, will suffice tonight as avoiding defeat lands the Rebels a title few could have anticipated before the season kicked off. Not that playing for a draw would enter the mindset exemplified by their manager.
He said: “Winning the game is our priority, as it is for every game we play.
“These are the games you want to play in; a big crowd and the title on the line. I can’t see nerves playing a part in it at all.
“It’s a massive game but we’ve had massive support. Against Bohemians the other night, we had 6,000 at Turner’s Cross.
“We’ve got a good blend in the team, older lads and young lads coming through. When I was younger, I remember you always looked to the experienced players to get you through. We have that with Dan Murray, Nults (Mark McNulty), Billy Dennehy, Mark O’Sullivan and myself.
“In the big games, you look to senior players for advice. The pressure wasn’t on us all season and we’ll continue to take it game by game. That’s worked for us all season.”
Healy was coming towards the end of his spell at Sunderland when City last hoisted the league trophy in 2005. Most of the team has changed since that epic victory over Derry City was secured but the aim of usurping another Stephen Kenny-managed side hasn’t.
“People still talk about the game in 2005 and the support we had then,” explained the Ballincollig native.
“For me, however, this could the biggest game of my career. I played in that cup final in Scotland at 21 and there’s the memory of my Ireland debut but this is massive.”
Whether it marks the swansong of his second spell on Leeside remains unclear. Despite Caulfield finalising terms on new deals with some of his squad, negotiations with others, such as Healy, are ongoing. Caulfield will leave an imprint of the veteran’s career, irrespective of what the future holds.
“We’ve got a really good atmosphere here in Cork and I’d miss it if I did walk away from it,” he said.
“I’ve enjoyed working under John and his backroom staff, so I would still think I could give something to the team next year. I wouldn’t think it would be my last game. We’ll have to wait and see.
“John’s been very good, especially with me and my age, in terms of when I train and how long I train.
“He’s been the right man for Cork since his appointment. He’s been brilliant throughout the year.”
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