Saturday 24 August 2019

Offaly club scene can lift county side from doldrums - Healion

Veteran Peter Healion hopes for more Leinster success with Kilcormac Killoughey. Photo: Sportsfile
Veteran Peter Healion hopes for more Leinster success with Kilcormac Killoughey. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

For Peter Healion, there just had to be one more roll of the dice.

When he decided to return for another go with Kilcormac Killoughey in 2017, all the logic suggested he'd call time on his career.

After all, he was heading for 34 and had moved an hour away to Claregalway. He and his wife Mary were expecting their second child.

And having lost out in the Offaly SHC semi-final in 2016, it would have been easy to pull the shutters down.

Still, the former Offaly hurler felt that there was an itch to be scratched. And with his wife's blessing, he suited up once more in the way of countless club players around the country.

"There are a few of us with kids on the team, and it does take its toll," Kilcormac captain Healion explained. I have two kids and credit has to be given to my wife, Mary. Only for her, I wouldn't be able to play senior hurling for my club, despite only living an hour away.

"It is as much commitment for her as it is for me, we have a three-and-a-half-year-old and a new baby, only four months old. That's a job in itself.

"Credit has to be given to wives and girlfriends, letting us go off and play our sport… only for them.

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"Mary comes from a big GAA family, in fairness, which does help. Her brother (JJ Greaney) has an All-Ireland medal with Galway, her uncle is Tom Greaney, who won an All-Ireland with Galway in 1998 and her cousin is Mickey Farragher, who plays with Corofin. She comes from GAA pedigree - so she understands the commitment."

It's hard to walk away as Kilcormac Killoughey are in the midst of a golden age. Going into 2012, they had never won a senior title in Offaly but they'd win three on the bounce from there, along with a Leinster crown, while they'd also make an appearance in the All-Ireland final on St Patrick's Day. That same team has more or less stayed together.

"It has been pretty much the same bunch of fellas, some of us have switched around," Healion explained.

"I played centre-back for the three-in-a-row and this year, I have been shoved up to the forward line, to move things about.

"There have been a few switches like that, but the core of the team is the same.

"On the panel, of the starting 15, there are 11 or 12 who were involved in each of the three-in-a-row years. And on the panel, there are a lot of lads who aren't starting but are still pushing for places. There is only a small bit between the lads who are starting and the lad who is sitting on the bench."

"It was great to get back this year. This was very important for the players and the club itself.

Sweet

"If we had gone another year without a county title, it would have been hard on the players, a lot of lads might have decided that they had enough, because they had been there for a long time. So this one was as sweet as the first one in 2012."

Healion will lead his side into AIB Leinster club SHC semi-final action against Carlow's Mount Leinster Rangers on Sunday. They'll go in as favourites to reach a third provincial final and continue the good showing of Offaly clubs in this competition recently.

And Healion suggests the strength of the club scene can feed through to the county side.

"Kevin Martin has come in and an awful lot of lads are going to commit to it that haven't committed the last couple of years. Offaly hurling needs every hurler that they can possibly get.

"Unfortunately, Offaly are now in a position where we are not regarded as one of the top teams, or even one of the mediocre teams.

"But the club championship is a lift for the county. If lads can say if our club can compete with the best clubs in the country, why can't the county players get into the same sort of scenario? It is a help.

"If you take it that Coolderry got to an All-Ireland final in 2012, we got there in 2013, that has to show that there are hurlers in Offaly and we can compete with the bigger teams, because the club scene is quite strong in Offaly. It is a very difficult championship to win.

"It is very hard to get out of Offaly, we find it nearly easier when we get into Leinster.

"I am not saying it is easy, there is nothing easy about Leinster but Offaly is quite competitive. This year, there was only a puck of the ball in all of the games from quarter-final stage on.

"And it is great for Offaly to have competitive club games because that is where the standard for county teams starts, it starts with the club and if they can raise the standard, the standard will rise for the county team too."

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