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'I got away with murder when I was younger' - Healy set for 100th Ireland cap

The 33-year-old nearly retired from rugby in 2015 but battled his way back to the top.

HIS FIRST IRELAND cap came against Australia in Croke Park back in 2009 and Cian Healy’s 100th will come in another big stadium, albeit an empty one, as he gets set to hit the milestone on Saturday in Stade de France.

In doing so, the 33-year-old loosehead prop will become the sixth member of Ireland’s exclusive ’100 Club’ along with Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell, and John Hayes.

Props never really get the credit they deserve so it’s little wonder that Healy and Hayes might not be as quickly recognised as two of Ireland’s greatest players, but their careers in rugby are remarkable.

cian-healy-celebrates-after-the-game Healy is set for cap number 100 this weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Healy’s list of honours with Ireland includes the 2018 Grand Slam and further Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015, while he has helped Leinster to four Heineken Cup successes, a Challenge Cup, and six Pro14 titles. He was very unlucky to be injured early on the 2013 Lions tour before the Tests.

Healy’s ongoing status as Ireland’s first-choice loosehead is all the more laudable for the fact that he was extremely close to retiring from rugby in 2015.

Following surgery on a disc in his neck, Healy was suffering from nerve damage that meant his right hand simply wasn’t working. 

So serious was the issue that Healy had gone as far as signing the documents that would have formally ended his professional career. However, he hadn’t sealed the envelope when he headed for a break on the Amalfi Coast where, suddenly, he felt a twitch.

That twitch slowly became strength and saw Healy embarking on a comeback that understandably left him short of his best for some time but eventually saw him deliver outstanding form for Ireland as they became one of the best teams in the world under Joe Schmidt in 2018.

Over five years on from being on the brink of retirement, Healy is in fine fettle as he heads into cap number 100 with a Six Nations title up for grabs this weekend. 

“It was broken down into so many stages,” said Healy today of recovering from near-retirement. “The first stage of that was being a functional human again and opening the door with keys and simple stuff like that.

“Each time I became capable of something, I’d work on another new standard, something else more achievable. I’d build through them and keep progressing through those goals to get back into the international team again.

inpho_00394037 Healy won his Ireland debut against Australia in 2009. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“And then get to the standard of the international team, it was a constant drive for fitness and getting my standards up because rugby keeps moving on.”

Healy recalls that first cap against the Wallabies in 2009 when rugby was almost a different sport.

“The whole occasion, it was class to play in Croker,” he said. “There were so many big names in that team, that kind of shocked me a bit.

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“I was young and cocky and confident in myself and young and I got a bit of slagging for it, but a bit of that confidence goes a long way.

“I remember Paulie [O'Connell] tapped me down a ball from a kick-off and that was my one outstanding memory of that game, I got a bit of a run off it.”

Healy’s explosive ball-carrying was an obvious strength in his game back then and while the sport has changed rather dramatically in the 11 years since, he still loves a carry.

“Realistically I got away with murder when I was younger, I wouldn’t do a lot of the dog work,” said Healy with a smile.

“I’d hang off a nine or 10 to carry a ball and only hit six or seven rucks a game! Now you’re required to do an awful lot more work and getting on the end of the ball is part of a plan, it doesn’t happen by accident anymore.

“I still love getting a chance to carry the ball, running through holes and fending off lads, it’s the most enjoyable part of the game for me.”

caelan-doris-and-cian-healy Healy makes an offload against Italy last weekend. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Despite turning 33 earlier this month, Healy says he is feeling great in a physical sense and highlighted the advantages of lockdown, which he “treated nearly like a sabbatical” as he rid himself of any injury niggles to return fresh for rugby’ restart.

His intense focus on recovery and minding his body are as much for life post-rugby and his desire to be “walking around like a broke auld fella” but it’s clear he feels there is plenty more left in the tank.

Healy is unsurprisingly quick to bat away questions about his 100th cap being special but it’s clear that his Ireland team-mates are motivated by it, as explained by captain Johnny Sexton today.

“It’s an incredible feat,” said Sexton. “You look at the guys who have 100 caps and how special they are. This doesn’t come easily. Every player in that category are legends of the game in Ireland and he will add himself to that legacy. He deserves it.

“He’s so professional in the way he goes about his business. He had that one particularly bad injury that took him a long while to get back from and he put an unbelievable amount of work in to get back, so I’m absolutely chuffed for him.

“I’m very good friends with him. I know his family very well and I know his wife Laura and all of them will be so proud of him. It’s another little layer onto our story.

“If it is his 100th cap, we want to honour him in the best way possible by trying to win the game. Same with the first-cappers last week, we wanted to make the day special for them.”

- This article was updated at 2.36pm to correct ’2015′ to ’2014′ in the fourth paragraph.

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Murray Kinsella

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