Wednesday 20 September 2017

‘I challenge anyone to say I’m not professional at what I do’ -- Heaslip

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Restaurateur, student, South William Street trendster, rugby player. There are many sides to Jamie Heaslip and he has always been open about the fact that his day job is not his sole interest in life.

The Leinster, Ireland and Lions No 8 has spoken in the past about his dislike for spending hours doing video analysis and his disinclination to spend his free time watching southern hemisphere or Top 14 games like others who are consumed by the sport.

A quick glance at Heaslip's Twitter feed confirms that the 28-year-old's interests spread to realms beyond those normally visited by professional sports people.

He uses the social media to interact with all sorts, be it promoting his restaurant, complimenting street artists on their work, questioning the validity of 'Time' magazine's 'Celtic Comeback' caption on their Enda Kenny cover or even responding to girls who take creepy pictures of him on the street. He is also studying for a Masters in Management at Smurfit Business School.

There are those who have used Heaslip's outside interests as a stick to beat him with, but at the suggestion that rugby does not inform everything that he does, the Naas man launches a stinging rebuke.

You don't win a Grand Slam, three Lions Test caps, make 50 appearances for your country, 150 for your province and win the Heineken Cup three times by losing your focus, he explained.

"I'll challenge anyone to say I am not professional at what I do. Professionalism consumes all of us, totally," the First Cape Wines ambassador told the Irish Independent.

"I'm religious about what I eat. Despite what people think I am not in 'Bear' (the restaurant he co-owns) every day of the week. I am very particular about my diet and hydration. I am upset if I am not in bed, asleep, by 11.0 and up at 7.0.

"I'm one of the first in the gym in the morning to get some extras in -- different guys get their extras in at different times, but it is a total lifestyle thing."

Heaslip quoted New Orleans Saints quarter-back Drew Brees' mantra of 'learn, play and forget' -- he can leave rugby on the field when he goes home.

"You are going to make mistakes in a game, it happens. You might not have a good day or might not be as quick as you are in speed training or are as strong as you are in the gym, it happens due to fatigue or whatever," he said.

"But you can't let yourself be beat up about it, you have to wear it. We have to wear that beat-down we got in New Zealand until we play again with Ireland."

It is the little details, Heaslip says, that will keep Leinster on top of the pile as they return to the Heineken Cup seeking a third title in a row and a fourth in five years on Saturday.

"The thought of being champions, for me anyway, is gone. It is not our title anymore. That is the same as the first time we won it, the same as the second time we won it," he explained.

"We won it last year, it was great. No one owns that cup, but we are chasing. We are chasing it hard. Harder than we ever have.

"We have put a lot of work in. Everyone is trying to tighten up little things. Their diet maybe, their lifestyle and sleeping habits, their recovery. That is a massive one, because it is such a long season. It is all about marginal gains you can get to kick on again."

Heaslip himself has been working on improvements ahead of the new campaign, even if he is not willing to divulge exactly what they are.

"Every year, I sit down with my one trusted source, (Leinster academy manager) Colin McEntee. He has had me since I was 15 and I have always talked with him at the start of the season -- and throughout the season -- on what he thinks are work-ons," he explained.

"I also talk to Jono (Gibbes, Leinster forwards coach) every year and Joe (Schmidt, Leinster head coach), who is the consummate professional and gives you unbelievable detail on your stats from the previous year -- we go through them, what he thought of them and how I can improve.

"So, those are three elements for on-field stuff as well as what I think myself. I also work with (sports psychologist) Enda McNulty and we see what we can work on, combining on and off-field blends. I'm not going to give my trade secrets away, but there are a lot of little things in there."

Attention

The on-pitch things are easy, he says, it is the lifestyle changes that require the most attention. In August, Heaslip travelled to London to watch the basketball finals at the Olympics. He also got the chance to interact with some Olympians and believes he learned a lot from their level of preparation.

"I went over with (Leinster centre) Eoin O'Malley and a buddy of mine. We flew over and back on the day, it was electric," he said. "I learned a lot from watching the Olympics and talking to different athletes around then.

"The Paralympics were -- oh my god -- I was blown away by (Ireland's gold medal swimmer) Darragh McDonald. He was amazing.

"It was amazing how all of those athletes at the Paralympics do. Their determination and drive to do what they do was incredible. I loved the coverage that was given to it, it was inspirational stuff."

Now that the summer of sport has ended, the day job is back in focus and Heaslip is intent on building a legacy. "I'm greedy. I want to win everything," he said.

He appears to be in the right place.

Irish Independent

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