Healy marked Bernard Borgan in the All-Ireland quarter-final 10 years ago, while commuting from London.
Let off the Laois

After 10 years travelling home for club and county, the 35-year-old set for London debut

Cahir Healy is gearing up for his first championship campaign as the Exiles face Leitrim next weekend.

THESE DAYS, CAHIR Healy tends to be more familiar with men training the teams he’s coming up against rather than the players themselves. 

When London host Leitrim in the Connacht SFC opener next weekend, he’ll look to the sideline and see Andy Moran, the former Mayo forward he marked while playing for Laois back in the 2012 National Football League.

A decade on, Healy is part of the London panel for the first time this season.

A groin injury that kept him out for seven weeks restricted his involvement to the last three games of the Division 4 campaign.

When Wexford travelled to Ruislip in February, Healy wasn’t togged out but he caught up with their manager Shane Roche on the field afterwards. The pair lived together in DCU during their college days. 

After Healy made his first start of the season against Cavan in round 6, he spoke with Breffni coach Seanie Johnston – another former college housemate of his.

“Ten years ago when you played another county there would be a lad you might have known from college or know through a mutual friend,” he tells The42

“So it’s a fair knock on your confidence now,” he laughs. “When I’m chatting to lads after matches they’re managers and selectors I know, and I’m still trying to play.”

At 35 years-old, Healy played his first inter-county game in over two years when he appeared off the bench for London footballers against Sligo last month. 

“There was only 10 minutes left and the game was over, we weren’t winning it but I couldn’t believe the pace of it,” he admits. “It’s a big shock to the system. I found the pace tough going. I said, ‘Holy Christ is this the standard now?’”

After a decade commuting back from the English capital to play for his native Laois and Portlaoise, the veteran dual player threw his lot in with Michael Maher’s team this season. 

The primary school teacher moved to London in 2010 and spent the next 10 years travelling back to represent club and county. Aside from 2013 when he moved back to Laois to teach at a school in Emo, Healy spent his time working and living in London.

All the while he stayed committed to the cause at home.

His weekly schedule would see him train on his own during the winter months and typically link up with the London squad for group sessions midweek. He’d head straight from the airport to fly home on a Friday night for Saturday games, or on a Saturday for Sunday games, before rushing back to catch the last flight to London. 

cahir-healy-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Cahir Healy celebrates after a football qualifier win over Monaghan in 2012. Ken Sutton / INPHO Ken Sutton / INPHO / INPHO

Now the punishing routine is finished, Health admits the difference to his life is “massive.”

“It’s mad, like when I did it, I never thought anything of it,” he says. “It a routine I made for myself. Because it was my routine from the very first week I ever moved over. I moved over I think on a Monday and I went home on a Friday for a game.

“It was the very first week we had a hurling championship game with the club. And now that I’m not doing it, I don’t know could I ever back to going home all those weekend.

“Because even the few weekends we’ve been home with London, you’d be thinking, ‘Oh God, this is a right pain having to travel this far for a match.’ When we’re heading off on a Saturday morning for a game on the Sunday it’s a right pain.”

Did he ever come close to packing it in and transferring to London over the past decade?

“No, I was always going to keep doing it because I love it. I would have grown up wanting to play for Portlaoise and Laois. So then when I was given that opportunity, that meant an awful lot to me that wasn’t going to just give it up. I love doing it and I love being part of it and representing the club and county.

“So I never really came close. The reason I stuck at it so long was I knew that once I transferred over here that that would be it. I know I’m here for the long term.

“So I looked at it in the way I’ll keep going for as long as I can going over and back or as long as I feel is the right thing to do.

“By the time it came around to transferring, it was the right time to go. I was much older than a lot of the players and there was loads of new fellas coming through that I didn’t know. For the first few years it was fine.

“I knew everybody and they knew me from before I ever moved to London. So I was coming home to your friends as such. But coming near the end I was coming back and I might be introducing myself to a fella and meeting up with him for the first time.

“You could never really get that bond. So when I did it it was the right time to go. But I’m loving it with London, it’s great to actually train with your teammates. I’m loving it in there, really enjoying the training and matches.” 

ben-quinn-and-cahir-healy Healy was a key figure for the Laois hurlers. Tom Beary / INPHO Tom Beary / INPHO / INPHO

He played both codes with Laois in 2010, focused on football in 2011 and 2012, and from 2013 to 2018 played hurling only. He gave football one last fling with the county in 2019, but his final few years at the big ball code were hampered by injury. 

“I did the cruciate in the summer of 2017 so I missed most of 2018,” he explains.

“I went back back in with the footballers under John Sugrue and 15 minutes into he very first challenge game, Paul Geaney fell on my leg. And he busted my knee. That was a right bad job I got done on the knee.

“I came back the following year (2020) with Mike Quirke. I was a sub for the first few league games and got a start then and 20 minutes in I tore cartilage in the same knee. So that was the end of that.

“I just had a bad run of it. I tore more cartilage last summer and the knees are in bad shape but I’m not in pain as such so I can get by.

“I made the decision that 2020 was going to be my last year coming over and back. So when I got the injury and then Covid I knew I couldn’t be coming back travelling for those gams anyway. Covid ended it but that would have been the end of it anyway. I was always going to transfer for 2021.”

Success on the county scene was difficult to come by. At underage level in football he won an All-Ireland minor crown and two Leinster U21 titles, but silverware proved harder to enjoy at senior level.

He did picked up a Division 2 title but never appeared in a Leinster final, with an All-Ireland quarter-final appearance marking his longest championship campaign.

Nevertheless, Healy looks back on his Laois career fondly.

“I was just fierce proud, it meant an awful lot to me,” he says.

“Laois have never won an All-Ireland in football and we’ve one in hurling so maybe the expectations are different. It wasn’t win an All-Ireland or failure, it was just going out and giving it your all every year and trying to do your best for your county.

“I’m just very proud to be able to do that and I’m very honoured to get to do it. There’s loads of people who would love to do ti and they’re not given a chance. When I was a boy I would have killed just to play one O’Byrne Cup game just to say I played senior once but I got to do it a load of times.”

A 12-time Laois SFC winner with Portlaoise, it’s put to him that their domination of the championship surely helped his desire to continue lining out with them.

“It was unbelievable. In the 10 years I was going over and back, we won the county championship every year bar one of them in football. We won maybe two intermediates in hurling and we got great runs in Leinster. In that time we were probably three or four Leinster club finals.

“It was brilliant but even if we weren’t get into those I think I still would have done it because it was a childhood dream of mine go up and play senior football and hurling for Portlaoise. So once that opportunity was there, I still loved it.

“Doing the bit of travelling didn’t really bother me as such because I was getting to do what I wanted to do. To me I was getting to live out my dream, I know it’s a fairly small dream but it was still fairytale stuff getting to play.”

cahir-healy-and-diarmuid-connolly Cahir Healy gets to grips with Diarmuid Connolly during the Leinster club championship in 2013. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

He switched club allegiances to Robert Emmetts in hurling, winning last year’s London senior hurling crown, and St Brendan’s in football. 

Once the call arrived from Maher to link up with the London squad, Healy had little hesitation. Even though things tailed off at the end, London enjoyed a fine Division 4 campaign. They beat Carlow, Waterford and Leitrim in their opening three games to sit on top of the table. 

Defeats followed against Wexford and Sligo, before they gave strong displays against promoted sides Cavan and Tipperary in narrow losses. 

“I don’t know if it’s London’s best ever league but it was a competitively league for us, it’s probably due to the competition for places,” he explains. “There’s a fair amount of fellas looking for spots and pushing to get on.

“The drive is still there for me, absolutely,” he says. “Sometimes it’s not even necessarily a drive it’s just I really enjoy it. I land in to training an hour, an hour and 15 minutes before and a few lads would be in there cracking jokes.

“It’s non-stop slagging and craic, just having that fun. I love being part of that. To me, playing county gives my life great direction. You get up in the morning and you’re thinking about what you eat for breakfast.

“It motivates you, it seeps through all parts of your life. It gives my life great direction anyway to be involved in a team that are bigger than yourself. I just love it, I have that drive to try and compete.

“I’m probably finding it harder now to keep up with the pace if you like. I’m having to work very hard to try get up to that that pace but I’m really enjoying it as well, I have to say.”

15 years after his made his senior inter-county debut with the Laois hurlers, Healy will begin his latest championship campaign for the Exiles. Beat Leitrim next Sunday and they’ll play either Mayo or Galway in the semi-final.

“It’s always a great occasion in Ruislip. I used to go out every year to watch it anyway and it was always big crowd, great atmosphere. Usually the Connacht team brings good travelling support, it’s a big occasion.

“Even there would be a lot of emigrants from those counties in London anyway. So you have a great crowd out at the games, great atmosphere and hopefully it will be a good day and we get better weather than when we played them in February.”

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