I know I have let a lot of people in Connacht down, admits Henshaw
Published 20/02/2016 | 02:30
Robbie Henshaw knew the time would come to explain his reasoning for leaving Connacht for Leinster but he may not have expected to do so in yesterday's Mullingar surrounds.
Following an open training in the Westmeath town, there was a certain irony to one of the county's most famous sons attempting to relate just how difficult the decision has been.
There have been many sleepless nights in recent weeks for the Athlone native, who played minor football for Westmeath but in the end, the lure of playing in the blue of Leinster and living in Dublin was too strong.
Connacht supporters have understandably felt aggrieved at seeing one of their own depart at a time when their club is very much on the rise but as Henshaw himself was keen to point out, the Westerners' progress will continue without him.
"It was an extremely tough decision for me," he sighed as if the weight of the world still rested on his young shoulders. "A lot of lost sleep over it and it wasn't an easy decision at all. It was very close in the end.
"Obviously I've been saying to myself that I've let a few people down in Connacht. But it's a new challenge for me and I really want to thank everybody in Connacht because they've invested a lot in me for the last four years.
"The fans, Pat Lam, Eric Elwood, Nigel Carolan. . . It's just been unbelievable for me and they got me to the next level.
"I tried to give as much to them as I could in the last four years and I will continue to do so until the end of the year for Connacht, that's my goal.
"It wasn't an easy decision and to have it come out in the middle of the Six Nations was tough. But to have it done and dusted is great and my sole focus now is on England."
As a 22-year-old, Henshaw still has his best years ahead of him, but having spent four years with his home club, he feels that now is the right time for a new challenge.
Should Connacht qualify for next season's Champions Cup, it would indeed be fitting way for Henshaw to bow out but the reality remains that Leinster are the best-equipped Irish province to compete with Europe's elite.
"It was a number of things. I've been in Connacht since I was a kid. I just felt I wanted a change personally for myself, and for my career I wanted a different challenge," Henshaw explained.
"For myself it was just a couple of personal things. My girlfriend is in Dublin and I have family in Dublin, so there's that.
"I just feel it's a new stage for me, a complete change for my career. There's nothing negative at all, it's just what's best for Robbie Henshaw and that's the reason.
"It was completely my decision - just so people know, it wasn't the IRFU's decision, it was mine."
Since handing Henshaw his international debut at 19, Joe Schmidt has watched Henshaw grow into one of his most important players and the Ireland coach said he could understand Henshaw's reasons for leaving.
"That's entirely Robbie's decision and it was always going to be," Schmidt maintained.
"I think one of the things that is important is that people see out their contracts, and I think Robbie's given great service to Connacht and the one thing I'm utterly convinced is that Robbie will continue to give great service to Connacht through to the end of the season.
"There's some powerful influences in that Leinster backline that he will team up with, and fair play to him.
"I think all the provinces would have been delighted to get Robbie, and with his selection of Leinster there's probably a few lifestyle things as well for him.
"Being an Athlone boy it's actually probably equi-distant to where he is now and he does come from a really strong family. They're just really good people and I've no doubt that's part of the equation for him as well."
Growing up on the Leinster border clouded the issue and although Henshaw is proud of his roots, he is joining a Leinster side that includes plenty of Ireland's first-choice players.
"It is a tricky one given the history of our club in Athlone - it was originally in Connacht and then it moved to Westmeath, slightly up the river and I played a lot of Gaelic football in the Leinster Championship and then I was in Connacht at 14/15 so yeah it was a big decision," Henshaw reiterated.
"To be able to learn from guys like him (Johnny Sexton), Sean O'Brien, guys with 60-plus caps for Ireland will benefit me in the long-term. Playing with those guys week in, week out helped me make my decision.
"Johnny is an unbelievable player and I learn a lot from him just from being in Ireland camp. To be with him every day will be good."
The timing of this week's announcement was far from ideal for Henshaw and he admitted that it has been a distraction for him recently.
"It was a little bit distracting. I wanted it done and dusted before the Six Nations but it just dragged but it is done now," he said.
"It kind of was in my mind in advance that I would be letting people down.
"I think I am just going to focus on Ireland (for now), that's a tough enough thing to do instead of thinking about other things, just living in the moment, to stay in the moment in a week by week team. I won't be looking to the future until I finish out at Connacht."
It's the beginning of a long goodbye for Henshaw but regardless of what colour jersey he is playing in, he will always remain one of Connacht's own.