Wednesday 11 December 2019

Some people took Heaslip for granted, says Dempsey

Girvan Dempsey has paid tribute to his former team-mate Jamie Heaslip. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Girvan Dempsey has paid tribute to his former team-mate Jamie Heaslip. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Behind the scenes, Leinster have been preparing for the eventuality that Jamie Heaslip would never play for them again, but even still, they were somewhat surprised when he met with the coaches and senior players last week, and broke the news, before quietly leaving the building.

There was no big fanfare or emotional farewell; Heaslip could get to a certain point in his recovery and when he was unable to move beyond that, the decision was taken out of his hands.

The fact that the 34-year-old hasn't played for the club since January of last year has allowed Leinster to plan for the future, but Heaslip leaves a considerable void, both on and off the pitch.

Jack Conan has taken over the No 8 jersey, while Max Deegan will soon challenge him and that's not to mention Caelan Doris who has huge potential.

Develop Girvan Dempsey has worked with Heaslip both as a coach and as a team-mate, and has watched him develop into the world-class player that he became.

Speak to anyone in Leinster and they will tell you how highly Heaslip is regarded in the set-up, yet curiously, outside of the province, the Kildare native wasn't always lauded.

So, considering his consistency, was he under-appreciated?

"I think so," Dempsey reckons.

"I think the unseen work that he did, but if you look at his track record and what he delivered on, and it's at club level, provincial level, international and Lions, World Player of the Year.

"He's won nearly every accolade and with a team been involved in winning nearly every trophy that was available.

"I think he was, at times, people potentially took him for granted and didn't see the work, and it wasn't until a couple of occasions where he wasn't in the team or wasn't selected that people really appreciated what he delivered on."

Heaslip changed the way Irish No 8s played and the subtleties that he brought to his game altered what coaches wanted from the base of the scrum.

"If you look at his functional role as a No 8, he was excellent but he added so much more to that," Dempsey agrees.

"His lineout work was a huge asset, his ball-carrying ability but also his offloading skills developed over the years. He wasn't of the older mould like the traditional No 8s, I think he was so much more like the current No 8, like how the New Zealand No 8s play the game."

Heaslip went about things on his own terms, but even from a young age, Dempsey recognised that he was destined for the top.

"The first time I got to play with him would have been 2005," the Leinster backs coach recalls.

"I just remember his training with us. He was this young, exuberant, bouncy forward who was laughing and joking with a smile on his face coming out on the training field.

"Even when he got stuck in the hard graft for the forward battle up front, he still came out with a smile on his face.

"He just loved the game but the biggest thing about him was, he was just always there. I got to play with him for four or five seasons, I never remember him missing a session or missing a match.

"He was just always so robust. He was always available to train and play, and he loved it. The thing about him was, he had this freshness and when he came into train, he was excited about because that was what he loved doing.

"I think what helped him was, he has other things in his life. A lot of players get very focused on rugby and their mindset ends up becoming purely about rugby.

"But he had this ability to switch from his friends and family in his life to his other interests into this. And that's what gave him energy when it came to play and train.

"He was very dynamic, he carried extremely hard but he also had excellent footwork and he always retained the ball.

"We designed plays around him getting involved because we felt that he was comfortable on the ball and he would give us that extra dimension."

As for what he brought from a player's perspective, hooker Bryan Byrne added: "He always talked about the brothers, how we are one big family in here.

"He epitomises that. He pushed people to make them better and he leads by example because we see how he works.

"It's a testament to everything Leinster is about."

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