AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Football Final
Saturday February 9th @ Croke Park
Throw In: 4:45pm
By Brendan McTaggart
Naomh Éanna have drawn acclaim from all corners of the county and beyond for their attacking play. One man in particular who has been the curse of the defences in Antrim and Ulster. Kristian Healy. Naomh Éanna’s own sprint king. The technique and guile to turn his man in a phone box while boasting the pace of a sprint athlete, Healy has played a major role in the Glengormley sides journey to Croke Park.
Healy gave us an insight into their mindset coming into the Antrim championship and how their first round win over St Paul’s was more significant than first meets the eye: “In Antrim the Moneyglass game was huge. St Paul’s was a massive game to start with, they were a senior club who played Division One and Senior championship.
“They were a senior club dropping down to Intermediate and that in itself was a massive challenge. Granted they didn’t have the best of leagues but they have that pedigree.”
Healy continued: “Two years ago we had a great win against Moneyglass to get our of Division Two but they maybe thought to themselves that they were on a similar level to us and could maybe match us but we showed that day that we had kicked on a bit more than they had in the last year.
“For me the most satisfying win we had all year was the Doohamlet game. When you come out of your county and into Ulster, you’re in completely unknown territory and Antrim teams have been historically written off.
“I think we were 3/1 outsiders for that game and we ended up winning by seven points. That was probably the sweetest victory of the lot as it showed we could compete with the lot and we took confidence from that.
“Antrim whether it be club or county sides are always completely written off but I think we’ve shown this year it’s about getting the right boys out on the pitch.”
The progress with each game has been incredible for Naomh Éanna. With each game and win has come more belief and confidence. That continual improvement has shown no sign of stopping. Healy told us: “It’s a young team and new territory but with every game that goes by you’re getting more confidence and experience. You’re learning a bit more and in Ulster you’re coming up against a different brand of football. You continue to learn.
“The semi-final (against Tattyreagh) was probably one of our worse performances but the determination we showed in the last six or seven minutes and you’ve guys like Michael Morgan coming off the bench to kick two points and if he doesn’t do that then we’re not standing here.
“We’re going into matches now and we have complete confidence in each other. I know that if we play 100% of our game then we’ll win, I don’t care who’s in front of us. I had that confidence for the Doohamlet game and we’ve had that the whole way through. We’re the only ones who can best ourselves.
“If we have our A game on any day, we beat anyone.”
Healy’s performances, especially in the Ulster championship have been electric. The 24 year stock broker gave his own assessment of his championship: “My games based on getting the ball and running. Naturally your going to open up space and get beyond people but I think I’ve probably improved as the season has progressed.
“At the end of the year I had an injury with Antrim and missed the whole summer. It was a slow process and I was feeling my way into the Antrim championship but with each game I’ve got my sharpness back and fitness and confidence.
“I like to think I had a good game in the Ulster final and a decent performance against An Spidéal. Hopefully I can bring that again for an All-Ireland final.”
Naomh Éanna had been knocking on the door in the Antrim championship for a number of years but the introduction of Frank Fitzsimons, Pat Hughes and Thomas McNulty for the 2018 season took them over the line. Healy paid tribute to his manager when he added: “He’s got the best out of everyone. We’ve got three lads with the county panel, four if you count Eoin Nagle as well and we probably could have more there.
“A manager expects county players to turn up week in week out but what a club manager has to do is get the best out of everyone else and that what the best club sides do.
“There’s club sides out there who have six or seven county players but the rest maybe aren’t up to scratch. Frank has given confidence to everyone else to go out there and play their game. I think the difference is Frank has got the best out of everyone and not just four or five of the better players and that’s not just the starting 15. There’s lads coming off the bench putting in performances and meeting the standard of the boy who he replaced.
“The whole team is high on confidence and a lot of that comes from Frank and Pat (Hughes) and Thomas (McNulty).
“You go through runs and people pick up niggles but we’ve got our spine and a style of play. Good teams should be able to set up that if one guy goes out another one comes in and it doesn’t effect the style of play at all. That’s what we’ve got this year and that’s a testament to Frank, Pat and Thomas (McNulty), they’ve got the best out of everyone.”
With the prospect of winning an All-Ireland comes the dream of playing in Croke Park. All thought of Kilcummin were put to one side as Healy paid tribute the bond they have developed within the Naomh Éanna squad: “To play in Croke Park for anything is a dream come true but anyone who has played in it for their club and their county have said playing there for your club is the best experience.
“A lot of the younger lads have had a good bit of success at underage and that’s continuing up through. In the Ulster final and An Spidéal match I was the third oldest in the starting 15 and I’m only 24. I think that shows how young the team is but all those lads have come through and are only two or three years apart. I’ve been kind of piggy backing off the back of that for the last few years but the run we’ve been on this year and promotion last year has bonded the squad incredibly and for the chance to play in Croke Park with these lads, your best mates and win hopefully as well, it’s once in a lifetime opportunity. Hopefully it isn’t but it could be so you’ve got to go out there and seize the moment.”