Saturday 21 September 2019

'Tuesday nights in Coppers are long gone' - Cian Healy on how demands on professional players have changed

Cian Healy goes through his paces in squad training. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Healy goes through his paces in squad training. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

There was a time when Cian Healy cut corners to try and make it in life. Now he cuts corners to make a knife instead.

He used to be a man in a hurry. Debut at 19. European winner at 21. Ireland shirt at 22.

Prop idol by day. DJ Church by night. Life in the fast lane and not always a straight and narrow one.

"I was younger and I kind of got away with it then," he smiles, eyeing his former younger self in the rear-view mirror.

"Whenever I was injured, I was more worried about whether I was going to get another knock. Or am I fit enough. And then you're in a brutal head space coming in.

"Small, headstrong, young prop, that was me...

"Now, when you feel a niggle you have to give it a bit more respect. Body-wise, I'm feeling very good now.

"I'm not going to say I'm 19 years old again but I'm pretty good. The older you get the more extras you need to do, the more time and respect you have to give your body, the more you have to do details.

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"So now I'm not getting knocks and I'm feeling fit and everything is going as well as it can be."

Preparation is different now; for one thing, emerging Leinster players are already professional when they emerge from the slick school Academies.

It's only a decade ago but Healy's time seems like a different century, never mind decade.

"I was just going about my day when I was younger. That was a different game.

"It's changed a lot since then, there's a lot more focus on the sharp stuff now, you don't really get away with it on that end any more.

"The Tuesday nights in Coppers are long gone..."

Now 31, or rather - "Hold on there, 30! I've three weeks left!" - Healy has learned how to understand the values of perspective and patience.

Then again, when those ideals have almost been snatched from your grasp, it becomes slightly easier to maintain a firm grip.

For, as he looks forward to a World Cup year in 2019, he doesn't need to be reminded that he was a signature away from retiring before the last edition.

Every day is bonus time. "Exactly. I've nothing to really judge by. I feel great so I'm not on planning to stop any time soon.

"I don't know like... all you can do is judge by other players' careers. A 36-year-old prop is probably still good enough, 37, I don't know..."

He never expected his close friend Jamie Heaslip to sail into the sunset before him. So now they remain close in friendship alone; rugby rarely interferes.

"Professionally, you have to treat it differently, you can't get romantic about it, you have to get on with your job.

"Emotionally having him around, you'd miss him in the building because we'd have gone for coffees and stuff.

"But he lives on the way home, so I'm calling in on the way home from training a lot of days. Our outside relationship doesn't take a knock from him not being in rugby. But it's different."

Healy tries not to worry about his future in the game because he knows there was a time when he was worried he wouldn't have one at all.

It suits him, too; last season, he compiled a string of superlative displays which were sufficient to usurp his professional rival, Jack McGrath.

Perhaps ahead of his time, Healy's evolution into the all-action, off-loading front-row perfectly suits the modern game.

"I came in trying to change the position so I was happy enough the game stayed fast and got faster, it suited me down to the ground.

"The scrum changing was probably a nice thing, no 'touch, pause, engage'. The big heavy lads didn't have a run at me! So that suited the way I played."

It didn't stop his body getting battered - or those of his opponents, at times - but he still reckons he enjoys the game as it is played, and how he plays it, much more than he did a decade ago.

Nowadays, he's a slim and mean machine - "112-114kgs, a nice weight. Nobody wants a slow prop" - and his passion for the game is arguably stronger than ever.

"It's more enjoyable, it's a more talented game now, there's so much focus on skill and being tactically able to break teams down.

"When I started you had a starter play, then bash it up and try to score."

But then that's another aspect which has changed with the times; in former days, the front-row union were neither bred nor educated to bother themselves with anything related to the creative process.

Healy is different.

"We're having set-plays that can stretch someone to score in four phases' time, that's so enjoyable, to play through that, see it evolve and then see it happen."

And when he is away from the field, where once art distracted him, now he has become enraptured by the process of knife-making.

"If I did nothing after training I would be tormented so it's nice to have a little release."

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