Sunday 18 March 2018

Heaslip: I'm not holding anyone's hand, we're not their mum or dad

David Kelly

David Kelly

Six years ago, Jamie Heaslip began his international career just as the tumbling tenement that was the old Lansdowne Road was taking its last breaths.

Now, he is captain of his country as the Irish rugby team undergoes its own difficult rebuilding task. Heaslip is charged with supervising the first steps of others. He will do so with his own experience informing their every move, but not dictating it.

"We're all on the same level here," says Heaslip. "We all have this privilege to put on the green jersey. At this stage, with everyone being professional, you have to look after your own shop first.

"There is a lot of emphasis put on the young fellas to know their job first, to know the detail.

"Now, as a senior player, first you have to get to know the guy and interact with him and I suppose help him out if he needs help.

"But you're not at home, you're not his mum, you're not his dad. You're not holding their hand, because you're not going to be able to do that on the pitch.

"You just have to give him a bit of guidance where you can, give them a little direction.

"But these guys are professionals. They do it day in day out back with their clubs. So, when they fall into our club here, with Ireland, it is pretty natural for them to do that homework, as such, and be professionals."

When he recalls his first start for Ireland, Heaslip (pictured) can easily remember the difficulties he faced in attempting to marry the dreamy ecstasy of the achievement with the reality of attempting to forge his own destiny in the game.

"When you first start out and you get told you're starting it is one of those 'holy sh*t moments'," he colourfully reveals.

"Then, once you get over that, you have that whole nervous energy and everything is a blur going into that first game. You know your stuff, but you're second-guessing yourself and you are a bundle of nerves.

"I suppose once you get one or two caps under your belt you're thinking to yourself, 'I am going to make an impact here.' You think 'this is my chance.'

"The last couple of months we have been talking a lot about wearing that jersey for a day, owning it for a day, knowing you don't have to play with any fear regarding anyone taking it off you. It is yours for a day.

"That is what these guys have here. There are a lot of great players who have worn it before them and there will be a lot of great players who will wear it after them.

"But right now, it is theirs. They want to do the jersey proud. You want to be able to hang it up afterwards and look at it. And you want to say you did it proud, say that you owned it and took your opportunity.

"That is what these guys have, they have a massive opportunity to make a statement and give Declan (Kidney) a couple of headaches."

Heaslip is now 51 caps and oceans of big-time experience on from that fateful day when he debuted – also against South Sea islanders, in the guise of the Pacific Islands, alongside fellow newcomers Luke Fitzgerald and Stephen Ferris.

Much also has been made in recent days of the famous Scotland game in 2000 when half-a-dozen stalwarts debuted for Ireland, one of whom Kidney name-checked again yesterday.

"There is more pressure, if you like, on the senior players, but in the same way, John Hayes would be the last fella to say that he held Jamie Heaslip's hand when he started and Jamie's not going to be holding their hand," said the Irish supremo.

"The lads will sink or swim. You have this certain feeling in the lead-up to matches and fellas would feel good about it.

"But when you get to 5.25 and the referee's calling you and you go into that 'oh crap' moment, and they have to take a deep breath and go for it, that's what I'm really looking forward to seeing.

"And if these lads do what they've been doing week in, week out (for Ulster) in a green jersey, then brilliant for us."

And so, with bated breath, the Ireland coach awaits the outcome of a great leap of faith.

Irish Independent

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