Cian Healy: Portrait of an artist
Cian Healy tells David Kelly how easels and turntables help his focus
November 15, 2009. It is minutes before Ireland play Australia in Croke Park. The stadium is buzzing. The crowd are cheering. The tannoy is screeching. The Irish dressing-room is bustling.
Cian Healy hears none of it. His head is throbbing with a rhythmic, pulsating hip-hop beat. The music must imprison him in order for him to liberated from outside distractions, thoughts and needs.
Jerry Flannery can't believe what he's seeing. This debutant bouncing around, drumming his fingers on his tree-trunk thighs. "Normally fellas would be white with the fear," Flannery reports afterwards.
Healy has sat in an Irish dressing-room on 14 more occasions since then. And his routine hasn't changed one bit.
"Ah yeah ... it could be anything," he says. "I've started listening to a little bit of classical music! But closer to kick-off it gets a bit dancier, it depends on the mood. There could be a bit of rhythm and blues there, it changes."
His performances rarely waver, even if one suggests that perhaps it might be unwise to get too worked up before a game. "Nah, it's just so I don't have to think about anything else, clear the head for a while."
He relishes that calm before the storm. And when it's over, he can walk away and disconnect with as much ease as flicking on and off a light switch. You tell him it doesn't seem like he has changed much since graduating to the big time.
"I hope not ... dead on. I wouldn't feel I'd have to be a different person like that. I'd still do my own thing, distance myself from rugby when I have my time off. In saying that, some people might say, ah you shouldn't be doing that, you should be switched on all the time to rugby. But if I'm switched on all the time I'd go insane, I wouldn't be able to look at a rugby ball.
"You gotta find a medium so you can separate yourself from it a little bit, and that's where the music and the art comes in."
Ah, the art. It is Healy's other main passion -- well, apart from cars and trucks, twittering, BMX biking, roller-blading ... Ger Conran -- a cousin of Jamie Heaslip -- first generated the interest when Healy was in Belvedere.
"He really pushed me on and demanded better of me. There was pressure on there but when I left there was no pressure. However, I realised I still liked doing it ... it wasn't the average kind of subject you'd normally ever see again!
"I just got a few pieces of canvas and an easel and I take to it whenever I'm bored or anything."
Like every day from when he first picked up a rugby ball, he loves the freedom of the blank canvas. Not for him the stilted bowl of fruit or landscape; like his personality, his enthusiasm infects the process.
"I'd paint a bit of anything really, I haven't done a hell of a lot of landscape stuff. I do the odd portraits, they'd be abstract though, no skin tones or anything, maybe a silhouette with a few colours to throw in. It's nice to change it from the normal really."
His passion for music, which took him to Oxegen 2010 last year as the opening act in the Dance Arena under the nom de plume of DJ Church, envelops him in similar, unrestricted circumstances.
There was no direct musical influence in his family so he absorbed pretty much everything he heard from radio and television, filtering out only extremities. Hence a sample from Healy's iPod shuffle could jump from Johnny Cash to the new Shapeshifters offering, from 50 Cent to Bach.
"It's just always something that I enjoyed, using it as a chill-out or when I'm drawing," he explains. "I like every type of genre except the Justin Biebers of this world!
"My first tape was Snoop Dogg, then I just liked discovering new music for myself. I saw what I liked and then listened to it, hearing stuff at underage discos then nightclubs. A few of my friends are DJs so they've helped me discover a wider range of music.
"The mixing is just jumping from song to song really, trying different things. It's just good craic, you can stay on the decks for hours really just messing around with different types of songs to see what you can do.
"It's all about ideas, you have to stick to certain rules you can't venture from, apparently, like making sure that the beat matches, trying to keep it similar enough and not have any howlers mixed in there."
All of which sounds uncannily like what the Irish rugby team are desperately struggling to acquire at the moment -- a perfect mix, without occasional howlers.
Healy's progression is more consistent.
He was perhaps once guilty of impatience but he now realises that players in his position mature as slowly as the finest wines.
"Yeah ... so I've been told," he smiles. "I wouldn't say I'm comfortable. I'd say I'm improving in terms of the challenges and opportunities constantly facing me. But there is a hell of a lot more to experience in the future before I will reach the stage of being a finished article, or whatever you want to call it.
"It's an enjoyable process to be going through though, learning different things and going up against different people. Knowing one day you might get put back by one fella but then the next day you can make him go backwards.
"It's a good way of measuring yourself. Mainly I'm just focusing on what I can do for my next game -- my next game is always the most important thing. That's how I've changed my head to be, not looking too far had or too far behind. I'm happy out since I've started thinking like that."
Living every moment. Loving every moment.