Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO Dean Healy (left) in action for Wicklow against Laois.
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Case for the Tailteann Cup, a life committed to Wicklow football and March manager change
The Wicklow footballers play Waterford in the Tailteann Cup preliminary round on Saturday.

NEXT SATURDAY AFTERNOON in Aughrim will see a slice of GAA history carved out.

The Tailteann Cup, which has sparked ceaseless debate and plenty complaints over its’ value, will at last get off the ground.

Home team Wicklow take on Waterford in the preliminary round of a competition intended to breathe life into those on the lower rungs of the football ladder.

Dean Healy has been pounding the road with the Wicklow footballers for a long time, a league debutant under Mick O’Dwyer in 2011 and a championship newcomer under Harry Murphy in 2012.

He’s prepared to approach a new phase of his inter-county career with enthusiasm.

“We’ll give it the credit I feel that it does deserve. Obviously there are a few teething issues but hopefully with this year and how it pans out, it will be a competition in the future that many counties will want to get behind.

“I think the concept of it definitiely makes sense. I think the National League is a fair reflection on where you’re at. There’s no papering over any cracks. If you look throughout the divisions, you’re there on merit.

“Take the Dubs this year in Division 1, they’d be the first to tell you that it didn’t go according to plan for them, that they had a number of injuries. Now because of it, they’re down in Division 2.

“Obviously they are saying it (Tailteann Cup will get the exposure that it deserves. Now, whether it does or not, I come from a county that plays in a tiered system. I have relationships with individuals who play in these lower tiered competitions, and probably see the lack of exposure that they get. I just have reservations in terms of how it pans out.”

a-view-of-aughrim-gaa-grounds Tommy Grealy / INPHO Aughrim hosts Wicklow against Waterford next Saturday. Tommy Grealy / INPHO / INPHO

Healy last played in Croke Park back in 2012 in a league final meeting with Fermanagh. The Tailteann Cup offers a potential route back to headquarters.

“I haven’t got many years left. It would mean the world to me.

“I would have brought it in even before the semi-finals to give lads an opportunity [to play in Croke Park]. You saw that story a number of years ago, Emlyn Mulligan he was on the go a very long time, and hadn’t graced Croke Park until he got to a league final with Leitrim.

“There’s a lot of lads plying their trade a long time, and they don’t get the experience of Croke Park.”

Devoting a chunk of his life to the Wicklow football cause appears an unglamorous existence.

Yet for Healy his reasons for committing are clear, even if the team has struggles like this year’s relegation from Division 3 and their recent 10-point beating in Leinster at the hands of Meath.

“I work in Dublin and my partner and her family are originally from Dublin. Over the years there has been questions raised in terms of would you like to be from another county and get that bit more exposure.

“Listen, my family take great pride in me playing for Wicklow. GAA came along for me at a time for me in my life where it steered me in the right direction. I wouldn’t say struggles, but I had some troubles through out my later teens.

“When I was 16 or 17-years-of-age, it was something that I put enormous energy into in terms of trying to make myself a better person. I can’t speak highly enough about my own club back home, and what Wicklow has given me over the years.

“I take enormous pride in representing Wicklow. My family do too. I have a young daughter who is 14 months old and she’s travelling the length and breadth of the country and experiencing all these grounds. It means very little to her now and she won’t remember it but it’ll mean a lot to me in years to come when you’re showing her pictures of all of that.”

Healy pays particular tribute in that respect to Gary Duffy, who in April became the joint manager of Wicklow with Alan Costello after the departure of Colin Kelly.

gary-duffy Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO Wicklow's joint manager Gary Duffy. Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s just one of those things that came full circle. He took me under his wing when I was 17-years-of-age, and here I am 13 years later, and he’s managing me at inter-county level.

“The two lads who’ve come in are both locals and experienced and have stepped up to the plate in terms of joint management. At the time I think it was best for all parties.

“I’d thank him (Colin Kelly) for his contribution to Wicklow football. I suppose it was just one of those scenarios where he probably took on a little bit too much, he got busy with work.

“I can’t speak highly enough of him on behalf of the players, but at that present moment in time it was probably just best for all parties.”

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