Wednesday 13 December 2017

Strictly business as pals Henry and O'Brien prepare to get personal

Leinster's Sean O'Brien
Leinster's Sean O'Brien
David Kelly

David Kelly

AS Chris Henry slowly began his recuperation from the dramatic mini-stroke that had literally floored him hours before last November's Test match against South Africa, Sean O'Brien was one of the first Irish colleagues to send a text.

The warmth between the pair has always been evident, but now that they renew rivalry on the field in Belfast on Friday night, they will revert to a default setting. Strictly business.

Both men know that; if you didn't know their relationship, O'Brien's reaction to Henry's successful return to play last month would appear dismissively blithe in the extreme.

Instead, it is the ultimately compliment from one world-class competitor to a genuine back-row rival.

"It's one of those things where he's back fit now, he's sorted, the problem is solved. It's like any injury or illness," says O'Brien.

Henry appreciates the sentiment; his mini-stroke was a frightening experience but it is in the past.

He feels stronger than at any time in his career; the heart surgery to repair a small hole has sealed the defect.

"Psychologically, when I got the all-clear from the doctors that was a huge day for me because there was no way someone from the medical profession was going to sign me off if there was any doubt that something may happen," said Henry.

"There's a device there now that covers the hole in the heart and for me it's something that's in the past now. It's bizarre to think this has happened. It's been a tough year.

"But to come back and play, be in a chance to make play-offs is pretty amazing. And if I can contribute in any way it would just be a dream come true, especially if we can go one step further than we've done recently.

"My heart is better than it has ever been. That's the bottom line. Of course it's easier to check whether your shoulder or leg might hold up.

"But the surgeons have told me I'm stronger than before. In the first six weeks, of course I would have been worried but those doubts have been erased.

"If the mini-stroke was caused by a different reason, I'd be worried. But because it was 100pc a hole in the heart, I've had three re-scans and it's been treated so that gives me great confidence.

"Nobody can be sure of anything down the line but I know it won't be caused by the hole in the heart. I feel fresh, strong and I just need to get match fit now and produce some big performances because I know there's a lot more to come from me."

O'Brien (below) expects nothing less from a player who is likely to join him on the World Cup plane later this year; until now, injuries to each have meant that they have never played together and rarely even been in the same squad. "It's great to see him healthy again," says O'Brien. "It could have been different.


"It's great to see him back and it's another option for Ireland leading into a World Cup year. I'd say Ulster are delighted to have him involved.

"Chris is one of those players who will be involved in everything. He's always around the tackle area, he stays in the middle of the ruck the whole time. He's one of those lads that just don't go away, he and Rory Best are very similar like that at the breakdown.

"He's a massive threat. He's back now. He's eager. He's fit again. He's a nice fella. It's going to be a big evening."

Henry's injury precluded him from contesting with Toulon this campaign and he was enthralled by the breakdown between Steffon Armitage and O'Brien last weekend.

"One of them gets a turnover, then the other one," said Henry. "So he has that quality, so the whole team has to keep an eye on him. I have my own style as well.

"If I didn't get back, my World Cup spot would be in jeopardy. Now I have a chance and I'm only looking forward."

Irish Independent

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