GAA Football

Antrim man Peter Healy aiming to help UCD oust Ulster University

Peter Healy, on his League debut for Antrim, closes down Tipperary's Philip Austin. Pic Seamus Loughran

Sigerson Cup quarter-final: Ulster University v University College Dublin (Jordanstown, 2pm today)

YOU’D expect the journey to this game to be a handy one for a St Enda’s, Glengormley clubman - but Peter Healy will actually be travelling up from Dublin.

Family history played a part in the Antrim newcomer’s decision to go to UCD, as his father Andy had been at Belfield too, helping them to the 1985 title, defeating Queen’s in the final.

Tipperary native Andy went on to play for Antrim after making his home up north, so it was perhaps fitting he saw his son make his League debut for the Saffrons down in Semple Stadium on Sunday, having played for UCD in the O’Byrne Cup.

The 20-year-old is studying to become an actuary but his football education should continue this afternoon, probably taking his place in a new-look full-back line as UCD continue the defence of the trophy they won, ironically, at Jordanstown last year.

Monaghan’s Ryan Wylie, Davy Hyland of Kildare, and Dublin’s David Byrne have gone but it’s still an achievement to make this UCD senior team, as Healy is well aware.

He helped UCD win the All-Ireland Freshers Final last year, pipping DCU in a six-goal thriller, but it’s still a big step up:

“There’s such a drive from Freshers even to play Intermediate – there’s so many numbers going to training and everybody wants to play football.

“It’s challenging but it’s a great experience to play with players of that calibre, like Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannon.

“Even to train with boys like that, it’s really enjoyable and you can only improve your game.”

The current UCD talent includes a swathe of Dubs - 2016 Footballer of the Year McCaffrey, forwards Mannion and Colm Basquel, and the versatile duo of Conor Mullally and Robert McDaid, who were deployed in defence against IT Sligo in the last round but can also play further forward.

In addition, the star of last year’s All-Ireland Final replay, Michael Fitzsimons, is expected to return to the UCD team today.

All six of those Dubs started last year’s Sigerson Final against UCD, as did Monaghan forward Conor McCarthy and Laois attacker Eoin Lowry. The Kerry duo of Barry O’Sullivan and Jack Barry both came off the bench in that Dublin derby, as they also did against Donegal in Letterkenny in the Allianz Football League opener on Sunday past, while Limerick’s Sean O’Dea and Mayo’s Stephen Coen are available again after featuring as subs in the 2016 decider.

Roscommon duo Sean Mullooly and Niall McInerney – both of whom impressed against Tyrone in Healy Park – did not feature against IT Sligo, nor did Tipperary’s Young Footballer of the Year nominee Jimmy Feehan.

Yet arguably the UCD dangerman is a lesser-known name from a lower-profile county, namely Larry Moran of Longford. He netted two goals for UCD in their first round thrashing of IT Sligo, which finished 5-16 to 2-6, and he also scored a major in a 15-minute substitute as his county defeated Offaly in Division Three at the weekend.

Healy himself was moved to mark Longford’s top scorer, Robbie Smyth, in the second half of that game, holding him scoreless, having seen his initial opponent, Mayo’s Bryan Walsh, taken off at half-time.

Healy is relishing his involvement under the management of former Galway defender John Divilly, commenting: “It’s such a relaxed atmosphere in college football compared to the county set-up; everything is skill-based and training is enjoyable, it’s some of the best football you’ll play.

“Everyone wants to win it again, there’s a big drive for that, but everyone is relaxed and we’re looking forward to it.”

Healy knows the ability and desire in the University of Ulster camp, of course, and the Antrim duo of Ricky Johnston and Niall McKeever, although the latter received a red card during their hard-fought round one victory over Garda College, which went to extra time.

Martin McHugh’s side is arguably as star-studded as UCD, including Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee and Mark Bradley, Donegal’s Patrick McBrearty, Ryan McHugh, and Eoin McHugh, Armagh pair Ethan Rafferty and Stephen Sheridan, Ryan McAnespie of Monaghan, and Derry defender Gareth McKinless.

UU will be desperate to reach the Sigerson weekend at the Connacht GAA Centre in Mayo later this month, having not won the trophy since 2008, but even with home advantage they will find the visitors – and their local man Healy – hard to beat.

Ulster University panel:

Ricky Johnston, Niall McKeever (Antrim); Cathal Boylan, Tiarnan McConville, Jack Rafferty (Armagh); Michael McEvoy, Terrence O’Brien, Gareth McKinless, James Kearney, Barry Grant, Shane McGahon (Derry); Ryan McHugh, Eoin McHugh, Patrick McBrearty, Lorcan Connor, John Fitzgerald (Donegal); Damien McKeown, Niall Madine, Sean McGonigle, Kory Colgan (Down); Jack McCann (Fermanagh); Ryan McAnespie (Monaghan); Sean Fox, Ruairi Kelly, Ronan McNamee, Rory Brennan, Ruairi McGlone, Mark Bradley, Daire Gallagher, Frank Burns, Matthew Walsh, Ronan McGeary, Cillian McCann (Tyrone)

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football