The Big interview: Matt Healy - Try-hungry flyer on the prowl for magical end to season
Excellence for province comes ahead of international aspirations for winger
Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30
When Keith Earls was classed as 'doubtful' before Ireland's Six Nations clash with France last week, many rugby fans and pundits alike believed Connacht winger Matt Healy deserved the call-up.
It never came, as coach Joe Schmidt preferred the experience of the now 30-time-capped Leinster back Fergus McFadden to take his place among the replacements in Paris.
Healy has ripped it up in the Pro12 and Europe this season, and although it might have been a missed opportunity, the 26-year-old Dubliner is destined to wear the Irish jersey sooner rather than later.
"Any sort of international inclusion at this stage is extremely appealing to me. But I have to bring it back to my performances. Consistently better performances, that has to be my main objective. I can't think too much bigger than that.
"That's exactly what I am focused on. It's the training, it's the consistent performances that are going to get me anywhere further than Connacht. That's all I am really hoping for if I am being honest," Healy says.
The former Lansdowne speedster has a remarkable strike-rate for Connacht with 24 tries in 63 appearances since his debut in the 2012-'13 season.
Last season he touched down on 11 occasions and looks well on track to trump that this term with seven tries in 16 games so far.
His form didn't go unnoticed, and Connacht were quick to renew terms with their coveted score-getter - it was announced he had secured a new two-year deal with the province on December 31.
And Healy was only delighted to continue working with the side that have taken him from the Ulster Bank League to the cusp of Champions Cup rugby.
"It's nice for them to even approach me with a contract. Four years ago if you had told me I would still be here, I would have been very surprised.
"It was a no-brainer for me. I love it in Galway, I have had some great seasons so far especially under Pat, and I have a lot to thank the likes of Eric Elwood for bringing me down.
"The fans are great, I love the city and I love how we are playing. We are now starting to build ourselves into that top-six calibre team.
"It was great to sign and it's nice to cement that relatively early in the season in terms of contract talks. Especially leading into Christmas time, it's hugely important to get it done."
Healy's career at the Sportsground has seen the province go full circle from the lower echelons of the Pro12, to genuine title challengers this season.
The first season he joined, Connacht finished eighth in the standings, but all of that looks set to change in 2015-'16 as Connacht lie second in the Pro12 and have a Challenge Cup quarter-final to look forward to in April.
"It would be the first silverware that Connacht have got. We have not come close apart from maybe last year. It would be massive for the club and it has been something that has been building for a while.
"The introduction of Pat and the good work that Eric had done previous. It all had been building slowly with a massive improvement on a general organisational scale.
"It's us as players that are going to bring that into fruition on the pitch. Hopefully we come home with some silverware at the end of the season."
But as the expectation escalates from Champions Cup qualification, to Pro12 title hopes, the Connacht players know top six in the league is still priority.
"What top six would mean to the club is huge alone. That remains the end goal. Team objectives change from game to game, but top six is definitely the end goal," he says.
Healy graduated from DCU with a degree in Sports Science and Health in 2012, and is currently studying for his final exam in an online Sports Nutrition Diploma from the University of Westminster.
Nutrition has always been a big part of his life - until last year his dad John owned the organic retail food produce company, Absolutely Organic.
Connacht's nutritionist Marcus Shorthall has also been a big influence too.
And that is something Healy wants to continue with long after his rugby career ends, but he has a way to go yet.
"For people alone to be talking about me getting an Irish spot it gives me a huge boost to keep working, trucking along, concentrating on the small things that turn into big things on the pitch.
"We have been working extremely hard in Connacht, as any team has to do if they want to be where we are at this time in the season. But we also understand that it's early days. There are eight games left and it's the business end the season.
"We are delighted where we are, after where we came from. We understand there is a lot of work to be done and we haven't achieved anything yet.
"Of course we are delighted to be sitting where we are, and we are happy with how we are playing. But it's early days in terms of achieving anything. So we are focused on that.
"There have been seasons in the past where we have come away with some huge victories, but haven't backed it up. Losing is a habit but winning is too.
"We are feeling good around the camp but we can't get complacent."