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Dublin: -1°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Healy prepared 'to go to dark places' to maintain his longevity

The 31-year-old is heading towards a third World Cup and feels in the best shape of his career.

BEWARE OF THE fair-weather swimmers and warm sea temperatures at this time of year. Cian Healy is the all-year-round type who enjoys the nourishment of a winter dip off Bull Wall and a post-swim coffee in Happy Out.

“It’s not cold enough for me now,” the Leinster and Ireland prop laughs. “The sea temp is up around 15 and 16 degrees now, I like it eight or nine as you’re probably not getting the same recovery benefits as the winter swims.”

Cian Healy Healy in Ireland camp ahead of the World Cup. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Instead, Healy has had to turn to ice baths to soothe the aching limbs after a painful week-four block of fitness work in Ireland camp, with many of the players admitting the sessions have come as a ‘shock to the system.’

Healy is no stranger to pushing himself to the limits physically, the 31-year-old bouncing back from the brink of retirement to head towards a third World Cup in the shape, and arguably form, of his career with another central contract already signed. 

“I enjoy searching for the little thing that will help me get better and that’s where I suppose the sea swimming and things like that come in,” Healy continues.

“I’m constantly looking at things that might help me to bring me that little bit further, whether it’s helping you to recover or anything. But at the same time, you can’t really replace going to the dark place and just doing miserable fitness sessions.

That’s probably the one thing that will get people with age, not being fit enough, so I figure if I kill myself with fitness in my off time, I’ll stay fit and have a longer career.

It doesn’t take long in Healy’s company to recognise he is in peak condition, possibly the best he’s ever been. Having dropped weight a couple of seasons ago to become a more dynamic player, the loosehead is as lean, agile and nimble as possible, while retaining the strength and power required in the modern game. 

After his well-documented brush with early retirement after surgery on a disc in his back in 2015, few could have envisaged — himself included — such a resurgence in form to become the cornerstones of the Ireland and Leinster packs. And a couple of months shy of his 32nd birthday, there is no sign of him slowing down.

“I didn’t think about anything really past a week with that injury,” he says, when asked if he ever thought he’d be sitting here ahead of a third World Cup with Ireland.

“That was a weird time where you’re more worried about your health more than your future in rugby and whether you can write your name and that sort of thing. That was a very different level of stress.

“But then, as I continued to get fitter and started getting more benefits and started feeling more and more like myself, I started to think along the lines of ‘how much more can I play? I feel like I’m getting better, surely I’ve got more time.’ 

Cian Healy The loosehead is as fit as ever. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Everyone always says the age thing but it’s how you feel and how you perform so I’ve always kind of held myself to that.”

It may be a case that Healy is hungrier now than before after it was nearly taken away from him.

“Possibly, yeah,” he agrees. “It definitely gives you an insight into work rate and taking things for granted like that and what extra work you need to do to take that opportunity and do the best with it.

“I suppose eventually when you do go out, to be able to look back and go ‘I gave that everything’. That won’t be for a while though.”

Being rewarded with a new two-year IRFU contract at the end of last season is just one indicator of Healy’s form and continued longevity, at an age when other players have found it difficult to earn extensions from the union.

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“It’s nice to have things like that out of the way and be able to get the head down and get working,” the 88-times capped international continues.

I think everyone is aware of that, the union have become pretty good at doing contracts early before they’re at crunch time and it lets players do what they’re supposed to do.

After starting four of Ireland’s matches at the 2011 World Cup and featuring in five in England and Wales four years ago, Healy is looking forward to getting back to Japan again having toured there with Joe Schmidt’s side in June 2017.

“It would be incredible to go to a third World Cup,” he explains. “It’s the pinnacle of sport really, to get to World Cups and have a good competitive go at it.

“We’ve to play these couple of warm-up games first and put your foot forward for that because it’s going to come down to how well you play in them.

“At the moment in training, the competition levels are sky-high and everyone is chomping at everyone for their position so you don’t want to look too far forward.

“You know it’s there and it’s in the back of the head and how great it would be to go, but you just want your next shot in the jersey to be a good one.”

Cian Healy Bulls Eyes BBQ sauce Launch 06 Cian Healy celebrates Bull’s-Eye’s arrival in Ireland. Source: Robbie Reynolds

Even though Healy is nailed on for inclusion in Schmidt’s final 31-man panel, he is not taking anything for granted and has retained a narrow focus on that opening summer outing against Italy on 10 August.

Healy suffered a fractured eye socket in the build-up to the 2011 tournament but says there will be absolutely no temptation to go easy if selected for the four warm-up games. 

“I’ve been asked that before,” he adds. “It’s a pretty easy one when you think about it. There is that not getting injured thing and there’s also that motivation to perform and get picked.

“But if you’re looking after yourself and not giving it everything, you’re probably going to get injured. That’s the sort of way it is. If you’re going half-efforted into something, it’s more likely you are to hurt yourself and then the easier thing is, it’s an opportunity to play for your country.

“Do you want to ever look back on one of the games you’ve played to represent Ireland and it not being a maximum effort and everything you can give to it? One of these warm-up games could be someone’s last game in the jersey and they don’t want to say that they were looking after themselves.

“They want to say, ‘I gave that everything I had.’”

Cian Healy was speaking to mark the arrival of Bull’s-Eye’s launch in Ireland. Bring the best of American BBQ to your backyard this summer with Bull’s-Eye’s range of authentic American BBQ sauces and glazes.

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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