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Football: HEAL MAKE HIS NAME AS BHOY; Highbury show a boost for Colin.

Byline: IAIN CAMPBELL

COLIN HEALY has admitted that he is facing up to the season that could make or break his career at Celtic Park.

The young Irishman was a revelation at Highbury during Tony Adams' testimonial match on Monday night, so full of self-belief that he was barging the pounds 50 million rated French World Cup star Patrick Viera off the ball to assert Celtic's superiority against Arsenal.

But the problems for any player in Healy's position at Celtic Park is that in order to get a regular game he has to displace Neil Lennon, Paul Lambert or Stilian Petrov from the side first of all.

Healy's failure to impose himself on the first team squad led to Martin O'Neill allowing the player to go on loan to Coventry City for three months.

However, the move to Highfield Road, where he was playing first team football on a regular basis, has made the world of difference to Colin.

"It's hard when your playing schedule is made up of one game in the first team followed by sitting out the next three months," he said.

"Your match fitness goes and that in turn can affect your confidence.

"But when I went to Coventry my opening game was against Crystal Palace and the Republic of Ireland's manager Mick McCarthy was there to see me play for the first time.

"He put me into the Irish squad for the game against Russia on the strength of that performance and from being nowhere I suddenly found myself playing beside Roy Keane in midfield."

The similarities between the Manchester United captain and Healy are obvious, both of them being Celtic supporters from Cork for a start.

But no one would ever accuse Keane of lacking self-belief.

Now his fellow countryman has the first six months of next season in which to convince Celtic that he merits an extension to his current deal.

And he shouldn't be allowed to pursue his options under freedom of contract, as Healy will be eligible to do next January.

"Celtic is my team and I want to make it with them," he says.

"I'd like to think that I'm capable of becoming a regular in the side in the near future.

"But it's the manager who picks the team and not me."

Healy's performances since returning from England have been enough to make an issue of Celtic's failure to re-register Colin with the SFA in time to play against Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final.

And Healy credits the Nationwide League, that the Old Firm want to join as a means of accessing the Premiership, with making a new man of him.

"It's a hard, physical league," he says. "But the Premier League has a better class of player.

"I would be very confident that Celtic would win the First Division title if they were ever to be given permission to play in England."

Healy will now get a break to prepare for his do or die effort at Celtic Park, regardless of which league the club is part of next season.

International appearances against Russia, Denmark and the USA weren't enough to dislodge a more regular member of McCarthy's squad from the Republic's World Cup party.

"I understood the thinking behind the manager's decision," he says. "But it was only natural that I felt a twinge of disappointment nevertheless."

Missing out on the land of the rising sun is one thing. Watching the sun go down on his Celtic career is another.

Healy now has the remedy at his feet.

CAPTION(S):

BHOY IN GREEN: Colin Healy's form for Coventry earned him an Ireland call-up
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 15, 2002
Words:607
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