Wednesday 11 December 2019

Nenagh native waits for his turn as senior start nears

Friday Focus

Ben Healy only has eyes for the ball in training. Photo: Sportsfile
Ben Healy only has eyes for the ball in training. Photo: Sportsfile

Ben Healy

Ben Healy's inclusion in Munster's 41-man squad for the Champions Cup may have come as a surprise to some but head coach Johann van Graan is well aware that he has a red-hot talent on his hands.

At just 20, Healy has already shown his leadership qualities at schools level, for his country at U-20 and through the ranks for his province too.

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Ben Healy in action in the U-18 Schools Interprovincial Series in 2016. Photo: Sportsfile
Ben Healy in action in the U-18 Schools Interprovincial Series in 2016. Photo: Sportsfile

Coming from the north Tipperary town of Nenagh he grew up on a farm where his father, Fergal, created a New Zealand-style skill-zone for his son.

Ben's older brother John turned into an accomplished hooker, and would go on to captain Nenagh Ormond, while the No 10 in the family grew his rugby brain through the various passing drills he spent hours working on.

Fergal placed numbered blocks on a wall at the back of their house and when prompted Ben would go back and forth and hit the requested target.

It was the perfect preparation for a career in the vital out-half position where time is at a premium and the very best players need to be able to pick a pass in an instant.

Healy's rugby skill-set grew and his studies took him to Glenstal Abbey. The Co Limerick school had traditionally not been a rugby hotbed and challenged for Munster Senior Schools Cup honours but that was all to change.

In 2017, with Healy at out-half, they made it all the way to the Munster Schools Senior Cup final before Cork's Presentation Brothers College beat them 11-3.

It was heartbreak for Healy and his team-mates but those who remained returned the following year and this time, with Healy as captain, they were able to make the step up.

Christian Brothers College were chasing a record-breaking 30th crown but instead Glenstal Abbey won their first ever title.

Healy was outstanding that day and he scored two penalties and a conversion in a brilliant 18-17 win at Irish Independent Park.

Just under 12 months later Healy was back in that Cork venue where he led his country to a gritty 31-29 victory over France in the U-20 Six Nations.

Stage

Healy had already featured for Munster throughout the underage system and he played for Ireland at U-18 and U-19 level. But this was a massive stage and he didn't let his coach Noel McNamara down.

Ireland began their campaign with a shock 35-27 win over a star-studded England team at Irish Independent Park. They backed that up with big wins in Scotland and Italy but then first-choice out-half Harry Byrne had to miss out on the French game with a hip injury.

Healy deputised and gave an accomplished display, leading his team around the pitch with ease, as Ireland moved into a Grand Slam decider.

"It's just incredible having just won the Six Nations in a Six Nations decider here in front of what looked like a packed house in Cork," Healy told IRFU TV, after he led Ireland to the win over France at Irish Independent Park.

"It is absolutely incredible and to do it with such a great bunch is such a great experience to have under your belt."

Leinster youngster Byrne was also missing when Ireland travelled to Colwyn Bay on March 15, Healy stepped in at pivot again and did his job, as Ireland claimed a 26-17 win.

It was their first Grand Slam at U-20 level having previously claimed a Grand Slam in 2007 when the competition was competed for at U-21 level.

Byrne was still Ireland's main man in the out-half slot but when he wasn't available for the World Rugby U-20 Championships last summer, Healy eventually took the No 10 jersey again. A much-deserved honour considering his form for the side in the Six Nations.

Ireland were plagued with injuries in Argentina and they didn't replicate their Six Nations heroics. But Healy emerged from the tournament as one of Ireland's best players once again.

The Garryowen clubman is in his second year at the Munster Academy now and he has already experienced first team action in pre-season.

Having played hurling, football and soccer growing up, Healy has wonderful hand-eye co-ordination while he was also a swimmer which, no doubt, lends itself to his work ethic.

He may not have seen his chance coming so early but with Bill Johnston's switch to Belfast to play with Ulster ahead of 2019-'20, Munster could require the services of the Nenagh youngster sooner rather than later.

Joey Carbery has come back from Japan with another niggly injury and although JJ Hanrahan made waves at the start of the season he emerged as an injury doubt in recent weeks. These two injuries prompted coach Johann van Graan to call up Healy to the Champions Cup squad, although he is yet to experience the big competition.

Tyler Bleyendaal's experience is crucial at a time like this but Healy can use that to his advantage, absorb it like a sponge, and, just like he did for the Ireland U-20s, make his mark when the chance arrives.

Removed

Alex Wootton was removed from the squad due to his own injury problem and Healy assumed his place for the trip to Swansea recently and Van Graan was thrilled to have an exciting talent within the wider pool of players available to him.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes before he is unleashed at the top level.

"It was great to have Ben in Swansea," said Van Graan.

"It was his first time with the senior squad in that capacity. Obviously have opportunity against London Irish earlier in the year but it was great to have him on that trip.

"It was a great experience for him."

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