Sport Rugby

Friday 18 October 2019

Jamie's World: Ireland’s No 8 on his driving forces and ambitions

Ireland and Leinster No 8 Jamie Heaslip talks to Cian Tracey about importance of finding the right balance in life

Jamie Heaslip
Jamie Heaslip
Jamie scores Ireland’s first try in the RBS Six Nations game in Croke Park against Italy in February 2010
Jamie makes a break to set up Shane Williams’ try in the South Africa v Lions game at Ellis Park, Johannesburg in 2009
Jamie playing for Dublin University during the final of the McCorry League Cup against UCD in 2003
Former All Black Brad Thorn left a lasting impression on Jamie Heaslip following his three-month spell with Leinster in 2012
Jamie enjoys walking with his faithful companion, Jay-Z. The pair featured in Weekend magazine last April and Jamie intends to get a second bulldog

As Jamie Heaslip gazes around the familiar surroundings of the Dublin café that he hopes remains one of his hidden gems, the demands of what is to come in the next two months is put to one side for now.

The Ireland number eight is about to embark on another World Cup quest but that doesn't come into the equation when he isn't at "work".

That Heaslip was the 1000th player to be capped for Ireland is an honour that he will forever treasure but he has always been someone who likes to keep himself occupied outside of the demands of professional sport.

He has 74 Ireland caps to his name and has unquestionably been Ireland's first choice number eight for the last seven years. Heaslip was selected to captain Ireland against South Africa in the 2012 Autumn Tests, after Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Rory Best were all ruled out through injury, and he captained Ireland for the 2013 Six Nations Championship.

Heaslip's last-ditch tackle on Scotland's Stuart Hogg in the dramatic final day of this year's Six Nations went a long way towards sealing back-to-back titles, and he is now eager for more success on the world stage.

Throughout his 10-year playing career, he has lived by a simple mantra: "The way I work is that when I go home, I don't do anything related to rugby. I do enough of it during the day."

In an age when players are constantly trying to get an edge on each other, it's a unique train of thought, but then again, Heaslip isn't like most players.

His interests outside of rugby include his dog Jay-Z, and in an interview with Weekend magazine earlier this year, he said if the bulldog were a rugby player on the Irish team, he would be a prop "like Cian Healy or Sean Cronin". Jamie is also involved in Bear, on Dublin's South William Street, The Bridge bar in Ballsbridge in which he is a partner with fellow Leinster players Rob and Dave Kearney and Sean O'Brien, and then there's Kitman Labs, the sports science company building the world's most advanced athlete management system to reduce the risk of injury within professional sports.

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There's never a dull moment in Heaslip's life and the variety in what he does helps keep him ticking over.

On the back of their success in Ireland, Kitman Labs are now making waves in America and their clients include baseball giants LA Dodgers and American football's Miami Dolphins.

The business was co-founded by Stephen Smith, who is a former strength and conditioning coach with Leinster.

"I visited the offices in San Francisco during the summer and met all the team," Heaslip says.

"They're going great. Stephen has that real high-performing experience from a sports environment and he's just translating those skills in. He's a hustler too, which makes him hungry for it."

For now though, rugby is Heaslip's main driving force, but given the short timespan of a career he has always been careful not to get too drawn in.

"I think it's a dangerous thing to get obsessed with anything in particular," he says.

"There's a lot of chat about well-being and taking a more holistic approach, I think you can get burnt out and not enjoy what you're doing which is never a good thing.

"I think when you keep things balanced, you're generally in a better position because there is a whole other life you have to live outside of rugby. You think rugby is the be all and end all but then suddenly it's finished and what have you got?

"Rugby can be quite fickle in that if you get an injury, you're done. Or else you come to a stop at the very end of your career. It's a limited time so you do have to be prepared for that.

"I know from talking to some players that they do struggle to switch off. Their minds are constantly thinking about rugby, but I've never had that problem.

"I find it great to be able to be intense for 24 hours and then ease right back, come home and do whatever you want and relax."

Heaslip's ability to switch off from rugby has always been part of his make up, but his entrepreneurial flair is something that has been developed over time.

In terms of professionalism, he points to the 2009 Lions tour as being a major turning point of his career - in particular the influence that former All Black Brad Thorn had on him.

Thorn won 59 caps for New Zealand and this year, at 40, called time on his illustrious 21-year career. He left a lasting impression on the Leinster supporters following his three-month spell with the province in 2012.

It was a brief period of time but Heaslip was instantly impressed by how Thorn managed himself both on and off the pitch and has since tried to follow suit.

"The first half of my rugby career until I was about 25, it was all about loving life and all the trappings that come with what we do," admits Heaslip, who did medical engineering in college and has a Masters in management.

"I remember my first off-seasons, it was like 'oh my god, four weeks holidays and I have money'. Most of my mates were still in college so it was a case of going mad for four weeks like any 22-year old would have done.

"Then you realise you have to work all that off when you come back! I just copped on to it.

"You realise then that you're not satisfied by that. You reach a certain peak and you ask yourself 'are you happy to stay at that or do you want to keep pushing?'

"I saw the benefits of living a healthier lifestyle. I know that's part of our job but it's become ingrained in me now. In order for that to happen you have to have a certain kind of mindset in terms of routine and lifestyle. That can help teach you in terms of discipline, leadership and team building.

"That kind of permeates into other areas and opens certain doors for you about other interests that you have. If you follow your passions, you can meet some really cool people who you might never have met through rugby."

Just like he has a clear strategy for what he wants to achieve at the World Cup, Heaslip's vision for life after rugby is also one that he is firmly in control of.

At 31, there's still a few years left in his career, but once it ends, a new chapter of his life will begin.

"When it comes to performing as a professional rugby player and in the business world, there are a lot of similarities. Straight off the bat, you have to manage your time to accomplish your goals," Heaslip says.

"Business and sport together would be ideal. It took me a while to realise what my passions outside of rugby were. I know I'm not ever going to be a coach. I don't have that obsession.

"I'd like to help players, like being an agent - definitely something on that side of things. It's just as fascinating being involved in a team and watching it grow.

"Working in high-pressure environments on big occasions and knowing how to execute your job in front of 80,000 people.

"You're 21 points down in a Heineken Cup final and it's like 'okay, let's stick to our job, execute it and we can come back into this'. Having that short-term focus and being able to access and plan again very quickly is vital.

"And there's negotiations. It's a big part of the sport now, unfortunately - both with sponsors and professional contracts. It's about translating the skills I've learned on the pitch to what I'm learning in the business world and blend it together. That would be the perfect spot for me."

His keen interest in technology has led him to trying several different pieces of equipment that aid him with his recovery. It's another side to the sport but one that has always been important to him.

After training sessions, he regularly uses NormaTec compression leg sleeves but his altitude tent in his house hasn't gotten as much use as it would normally due to travelling around the country for what has been a more intense pre-season than normal.

"There's a whole theory which I buy into which is: live high, train low. Your body gets used to altitude and operating with less oxygen," he explains.

"There's a lot of ongoing sports science in terms of strength and conditioning and the recovery aspect gets left behind a little, but now more money is being pumped into the research and development of it."

As the scrutiny intensifies on the Irish players over the coming weeks, Heaslip is prepared for what that brings but he maintains that social media is an important tool to engage with supporters - however, he knows there is a line.

"Social media opens up the audience to the game. People feel like because they can access you quickly, that they're automatically close to you.

"After a game, they might voice their opinion and it could be frustration that's aimed at you - and that's fine, you just ignore it.

"I have very little time for negativity in my life as opposed to constructive criticism which you get anyway from your coaches and players around you.

"There comes a time when I do look forward to reading people's opinions, but right now, I can't allow myself to use up energy.

"You don't really get bothered in person a whole lot around Dublin. The good will towards the team right now is unreal. It's not even pressure. People are proud."

Over the next two months, Heaslip has the opportunity to lift the only trophy that has escaped his grasp. It's a tall order, but one that will soon dominate his thoughts.

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