Cian Healy: I can never sit back and say, 'I was in the best shape of my life'
Leinster and Ireland prop vows to put nightmare injury spell behind him as he searches for return to best form
It's been almost seven months since Cian Healy underwent neck surgery that threatened to end his career and although physically he looks stronger than before, on the pitch he has yet to return to his explosive best.
Healy won his race to be fit in time for the World Cup but it was a tournament in which Jack McGrath further established his growing reputation.
At 28, Healy isn't getting any younger but recent injuries have allowed him to learn more about his body and, in turn, look after it better.
Looking back on the World Cup, the loosehead prop accepts that he wasn't at his best but then again, such is his driven mindset, he believes that there is always room for improvement.
"It's hard to judge. I felt I was in good shape. I felt I did enough fitness and I've more time to work on fitness now," he explains.
"I'm constantly getting fitter - that's the work of the whole season. After bumps and bruises for a while, it's a couple of seasons' fitness I'm building up now.
"In the last week especially after having that time off, I came back running the last few days and I felt fitter, sharper and stronger as well.
"I'm never where I want to be - I always want to be stronger, I always want to be faster. I could never sit back and say, 'I was in the best shape of my life'.
"I can't say that about any of my seasons because I'm constantly feeling I've done something different each season that's changed something, whether I wanted to put my weight up and that was going to affect my speed or the other way around."
Healy insists that he doesn't have any after-effects from the surgery but one wonders how difficult it must be to recover mentally, especially given the attritional position that he plays in and how often he is forced to put pressure on his neck.
"Over the years, I've looked after my body a bit better and treated it with the respect I need to but that's more a learning from getting older more than anything else," he admits.
"I think I've moved on from any of the injuries I've had and am going forward in a nice way.
"There was never any pressure put onto me, 'Quick, quick, you have to make it back for X, Y, Z and you have to be able to do this'.
"It was just a case of getting myself into the best physical shape I can, be that fitness or strength or mobility. That's been the work-on for pretty much the last couple of months and something I'm still carrying on."
The World Cup is all but a distant, painful memory now and so too is Healy's injury nightmare.
Coming back into the Leinster environment hasn't exactly been the ideal antidote however, especially not after he was part of a scrum that was absolutely decimated by Bath.
Leinster are facing down the barrel of an early exit from the pool stages of the Champions Cup before they take on Toulon back-to-back but Healy is adamant that the Irish provinces are not falling behind the rest of Europe.
"You can't say anyone has an inability to compete. It's (Europe) constantly getting more difficult because teams are getting better and finding things to work on," he says.
"We've been top of our game for a few years. I think we've had a scrum that's been quite targeted and people are going to find ways to go against that and it's on us to think on our feet and be ready to go against what they bring.
"We couldn't contain their (Bath's) scrum, they were doing things that we hadn't forearmed for, so there was a big step back and going to the drawing board to sort ourselves out.
"We had to be able to deal with that and we couldn't, so what we've done in training now for the last two weeks there is a nice foundation to what we want to be able to do.
"We didn't have a fallback plan. We have enough confidence in our scrum but that was a pretty formidable set-up that they had and how they were doing it. So you can't put it all down to us doing wrong, big credit to that scrum and what they were achieving there."
The defeat to Bath has now been consigned to the past just like the other painful recent memories but last weekend's win over Ulster coupled the emergence of some of the younger players has left Healy in no doubt that Leinster are in a good place.
"Playing with Garry (Ringrose), Josh (van der Flier) and them and seeing the vibes that they're bringing into training. That's really good to be around.
"You can see that coming through. It's hard to think back to when I was young myself because it was so long ago and you're wondering if you brought those sort of things.
"You kinda stop and look in from the outside and see that they're adding a lot of energy. They're really bringing in the right vibes and that would be something great to be a part of and win things with them."
The younger players have given Leinster supporters a glimpse into what the future holds and if Healy can find a return to his past form, the present may also start looking that bit brighter.
Cian Healy is a brand ambassador for FLEXISEQ Sport, a drug-free gel designed to protect the joints in all active people