Thursday 21 September 2017

'I know it's Lions year, but I'm more worried about fighting for my Ireland place'

Cian Healy admits he’d have liked more game-time in Six Nations to challenge Jack McGrath
Cian Healy admits he’d have liked more game-time in Six Nations to challenge Jack McGrath
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

These are uncertain times for Cian Healy who must be wondering what he has to do to wrestle the number one jersey back off Jack McGrath, but it is encouraging to know that he still feels like he is working his way back to peak fitness.

When Healy first burst onto the international scene as a freakishly good 22-year-old, few would have believed that he wouldn't be Ireland's first-choice loosehead prop in the same year that he turns 30.

That is partly down the emergence of Jack McGrath into a genuine world-class operator but a series of serious injuries have robbed Healy of some of his best years. Having put the neck, hamstring and ankle issues behind him, Healy played 136 minutes out of a possible 400 in this season's Six Nations and for the most part he made an impact.

That included just one start in Rome where Healy's performance was such that he looked like he had closed the gap again on McGrath but Joe Schmidt reverted to his now first-choice prop and Healy had to continue in his role as impact sub.

Consistency

It's a title that players hate, particularly when you are someone of Healy's ability but Schmidt's hand has been forced by McGrath's remarkable level of consistency.

Healy's lack of game-time in this season's Six Nations comes on the back of him not starting a game in last year's tournament, while the year before he wore the number one jersey just once.

Whatever way you dress it up, two Six Nations starts in three years doesn't bode well for a player with genuine aspirations of touring with the Lions and Healy now looks to be in a straight battle with Joe Marler for the third loosehead spot.

"I was happy enough with some things," Healy reflects. "I could have done with a bit more time, more mileage through the legs, but such as it is . You take what you get and you do the best you can.

"I'd hoped (for more game-time). You put the best foot forward and rely on the best team to be picked and don't argue. That's the way it is.

"I am still getting back (to full fitness). I'm certainly not at the level I want to be. You have to get as much of a run of time as you can, take every opportunity to get 60-70 minutes under the belt.

"You need a run of them to get into full match flow. I got a few at the start of the season that I was happy with….it continues with rehab, skill work, everything, I need to keep trying to push that on now. Hopefully I will push myself forward this week and get some game-time and be in a good position next week."

Healy must be fed up of talking about his battle with McGrath but there is no getting around the fact that it is one of the mostly hotly-contested positions in the country and Ireland are lucky to have two such quality looseheads on their hands.

"I don't know, I think we're close enough," he suggests. "It works well in training, we tag in and out. We're kinda on the same system. I don't make the decisions, I just keep my head down as best I can."

As the dust settles on the Six Nations, Schmidt will begin to dissect Ireland's second-place finish and in particular, why they were so poor in Murrayfield.

"We lost two so that's a bit annoying and there's a lot to be worked on," Healy says.

"We finished on a positive and we've to be happy with that. But we're not a team that settles on something like that.

"Though we were very happy with the win in the end, it was still burning inside us that we hadn't won the whole thing. We put pressure on ourselves inside, and I don't think anything outside could match the pressure or intensity that goes through our reviews and how we pick apart our games.

Standards

"That's done to the highest standards, so it just comes down to on the day of the game then, if you win or lose and the performance is right."

As for the Lions, there is very much a sense of unfinished business for Healy who was cruelly ruled out of the 2013 tour after he damaged ankle ligaments prior to the first Test against Australia.

Warren Gatland names his squad on April 19 and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Healy will be on the plane to New Zealand, even if he's remaining coy about the idea of travelling. "I see it (Lions) on social media everywhere, obviously I know it is happening this year but I am more worried about fighting into number one jersey in Ireland," Healy insists.

The 29-year-old will hope to get some much needed game-time under his belt against Cardiff on Saturday before the front-line internationals return for the highly-anticipated Wasps clash.

That will of course mean that Healy will pack down in the scrum opposite an old friend in Marty Moore and he is relishing the opportunity to do so.

"I've watched him in a good few of his games," he adds. "We met up with him for dinner, a while back, a few of the props, and Jordi (Murphy), who was taken into the group for the night. We keep in touch, he's a good friend.

"We'll pick apart his game when we're doing study but not much more than any opposition."

Life Style Sports and Cian Healy are urging all Leinster fans to get involved in their campaign in the club's bid for European glory by asking them to post messages of support to their favourite player using #FuelThe4th.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport