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Dublin: 9°C Wednesday 27 January 2021

Heffernan mining confidence from the work he puts in after long wait for second cap

The Connacht hooker is grateful to Andy Friend and Jimmy Duffy for guiding him back to peak form.

Heffernan sets himself for a line-out against Italy.
Heffernan sets himself for a line-out against Italy.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG city. Or at least a populous suburb of one.

Connacht hooker Dave Heffernan realised a dream when Ireland set off for America in 2017. His first international cap for Ireland was collected in the opening game of the tour as Joe Schmidt tested his depth in a Lions summer.

It would take three years, a change of head coach at provincial and national level before the Mayo man made it back to the game’s big stage.

Now aged 29, Heffernan ensured the wait ended with a bang as he made a telling impact, a try-scoring impact off the bench as Ireland ran up a score on Italy to take the summit of the Six Nations table.

“I made sure I enjoyed it a lot more than the first time around,” says Heffernan.

“The game (v USA in 2017) probably passed me by a bit. Had a couple of mistakes early on and didn’t bounce back, didn’t react as I would have liked.”

Heffernan works hard on his mental strength, treats it like a muscle. A voracious reader, you feel he is only scratching the surface of his memory bank when he rattles off a quick list of titles that he has chewed through. The Inner Game of Tennis, The Inner Game of Golf and, on his bedside at the minute, is Great Mental Models.

As a hooker, he is conscious of honing his ‘closed skills’, actions like a line-out throw that can be tested and perfected in benign conditions before put under scrutiny in the heat of a competitive match.

“The closed skills side of things is so different to the normal side of the game. You have to prepare a bit differently and I have to switch between playing a rugby match where you’re basically running around trying to kill each other to having to execute a closed skill under pressure.”

The Ballina man admits that it took hard work and effort to rebuild his confidence before returning to the international fold. His Test debut preceded a difficult 2017/18 season and he feels it was not until Andy Friend took charge out west that his morale surged again.

Underpinning the mental side of his game, of course, is the very tangible, physical workload that Heffernan takes pride in.

“Since Friendy came in, he’s probably been a massive boost for me individually. He’s done a lot of work off the pitch building up my confidence a bit after probably a poor season before he got in there.

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“The likes of Jimmy (Duffy, forwards coach), he’s been there a long time, everyone in the organisation has been massive for me and helped me to get here. I owe them a lot.”

“The arm around the shoulder is part of it, but just doing the work is the main thing. You can build someone up, but if they don’t feel themselves that they’ve done the work to be where they are then it’s a waste of time.

dave-heffernan Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I worked really hard on my game and Friendy just encouraged me in that direction.

“I feel I work as hard as anyone else, or harder, I put a huge amount of effort into throwing and I do that consistently. I take a huge amount of confidence from that.”

This weekend, the Ballina man will be in the mix for his third Ireland cap and he will hope to put his closed skills to the test when Ireland have the pressure of chasing a Championship.

If he earns a run in the City of Lights, it will mark the end of a hard journey made since picking up his debut in New Jersey.

“It’s a massive week, they don’t really get much bigger. It’s all on the line this weekend, I suppose it is in our hands which is massive.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge, France are on fire at the moment really.

“I’m really lucky to be back in here again. Definitely not taking it for granted in any way.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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