Tuesday 17 September 2019

Connacht prop Bealham gaining confidence again after weight loss helps him back into Ireland fold

Bealham: On the right track. Photo: Sportsfile
Bealham: On the right track. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

They say a man who does not care for his belly will have difficulty minding the rest of his body.

Finlay Bealham wasn't exactly your poster boy for unhealthy eating. Indeed, he used to eat all the right things.

The problem was, he ate all the right things but usually at the wrong time and sometimes in the wrong amounts.

And so, like a car spluttering on diesel when it should be using petrol, the Australia-born Ireland international suddenly found that instead of careering forwards, his international ambitions suddenly stalled.

It's easy to forget that in 2016 Bealham was primed to become a permanent fixture in Joe Schmidt's squads but as a whirl of ever-changing personnel have demonstrated since then, there is no room for those who stand still.

And certainly no entrance for those who are taking a backwards step.

So despite a year that saw his province crowned Guinness PRO12 champions and his role in the Chicago coup against the All Blacks, Bealham would win only one cap in 2017 before his recall from the wilderness last month.

During his exile, the 27-year-old was literally forced to weigh up his options.

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He was too heavy and the load was becoming an increasing burden in a sport where tighthead responsibilities have moved far beyond locking down the scrum.

One might be tempted to view him scooping up giant spoonfuls of Ben & Jerry's while working his way through 'Narcos' on Netflix but the reality was far more prosaic.

"No, as much as I love it! I just thought of it as if your body is a car and you are fuelling it up. I was fuelling my body too much at the wrong time. That was all just going into fat.

"I just used to eat to satisfy my hunger levels. Now there's a bit more of a direction to what I am doing.

"I am timing my meals properly, I am eating the correct amount of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

"I'm getting things right now."

He never felt particularly sluggish off the pitch but he definitely did on it.

Schmidt turned a cold shoulder to his dwindling form as rivals soared ahead while, as the reigns of Pat Lam and Kieran Keane imploded, his Connacht form suffered, too.

"I got pretty heavy and felt that in games I was quite lethargic," he explains of the journey from 123/4kg to 116/7kg. I wasn't as dynamic as I would like to be because I was carrying a bit more excess fat. It wasn't good weight, to be honest."

Minding his weight has taken a weight off his mind.

"You want to be heavy so that I can do my main job which is scrummaging but I don't want to stand out like a sore thumb on the pitch for not delivering around the pitch.

"It's just finding that middle ground where I felt like I could maintain my strength at a weight where I could still be effective around the pitch.

"The last few years it doesn't matter what number you have on your back, you have to be able to be a bit of a ball player. That is something that comes pretty natural to me.

"But I felt if I was heavily fatigued in games I couldn't get to places early enough. If I had to do an out-the-back pass, the pass wouldn't be as good because I would be fatigued.

"Now in my mind, I feel a bit fresher and I have a bit more spark where I can deliver those little movements like that pass. And I can deliver them more efficiently which helps the team."

Many tightheads can now be asked to push towards 80 minutes if required; he played all but a few minutes of the recent league clash with Leinster.

The prospect seemed faintly unthinkable a year or so back.

Andy Friend, his new Connacht coach, has noticed the vast improvements and doesn't hedge his bets when assessing his charge's charge for a World Cup spot.

"He's a very good tighthead prop," says Friend.

"Technically with every passing year, it's all experience and knowing how to fight out of different positions and he has learned from that experience.

"He's hellishly strong but his point of difference is that he is mobile and skilful. He needs to have weight and strength to hold up that scrum but you want to have that leanness to get around the park.

"I can see him going to Japan. Ireland are blessed with a lot of good footballers at the moment but he is right up there amongst them."

And after his Irish renaissance last month, Bealham is starting to believe in himself again, too.

"It was a really great experience for me to get back in the squad and get two games. I learned a lot from it.

"There are some big games coming up now and hopefully I can find a bit of form and put myself in the conversation for the Six Nations selection."

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