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'The real skill of being a good pro': Heaslip on the mental strain Ireland will endure at RWC

‘They’ve been in a hotel with the same guys, doing the same thing, day in, day out and Joe’s just cranking that up, cranking that up, cranking that up…’

A TAXING SCHEDULE awaits Ireland’s players on this latest tilt at the Rugby World Cup, and that’s without even accounting for the regular rigours of international Test matches.

Joe Schmidt shares a joke with the team Schmidt with players after training at Thomond Park last month Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

By the time World Cup quarter-final weekend rolls around, Ireland will (fingers-crossed) be on the go a full four months on from the beginning of their preparations under Joe Schmidt in mid-June.

Peter O’Mahony mentioned during his interview with Second Captains yesterday how mentally draining and intense World Cups can be. Now, the blindside isn’t a man you would normally consider quick-to-moan about circumstances and workload – in the same interview he labelled he ruptured ACL in the 2015 pool clash with France as ‘not ideal’ – so it’s worth considering the toll on the mind that goes unseen behind the body blows that happen on the field.

“It’s intense, man,” says Jamie Heaslip, who has been to two World Cups, helping Ireland progress through the pool unbeaten on both occasions before bowing out at you-know-what-stage.

Jamie Heaslip supported by Peter O'Mahony and Jack McGrath Heaslip on the run against Canada in 2015, with Peter O'Mahony in support. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“They’ve been training since June and – they haven’t been at home since June, they’ve been in camp since June, right,” says the former number 8 as he begins to slow his sentences, dragging out words for emphasis and introducing the ringmaster driving the pressure dials north.

So they’ve been in a hotel with the same guys, doing the same thing, day in, day out. And Joe’s just cranking that up, cranking that up, cranking that up…

“And you have to do that, because you have to build up the pressure. Even if he’s not doing it, the pressure is naturally building because there’s different cuts at different times or one or two lads might get injured.

“And then you’re playing these fitness games and you don’t want to get shown up by other people. And everyone’s watching, it’s getting recorded. It’s intense, man.

“That’s the real skill of being a good pro, it’s knowing how you react to that environment and knowing how to release the tension.”

Every player, every character has to develop their own approach to installing a release valve on that pressure. For Heaslip, the secret was planning. Marking out his free time, time away from camp and so knowing when to go full throttle through his workdays.

“I used to plan so much, because you’d know you’d have the weekend off. So you spend time with family and friends, you’re getting away, doing stuff just to relax completely. Because when you’re in there (you can’t).

“That’s why it worked well for me as a player. Because when I’m in I’m all in. But away from it, I was very easily switched off. You have to.”

Come World Cup time, switching off gets a little more complicated as the squad is pushed tighter than ever while the easy-out of family time is not always quite as straightforward as it can be when players are working out of a fixed base in Maynooth.

Down days on tours or at World Cups in the past have featured fishing trips, rollercoaster rides and bungee jumping. Heaslip offers the example of Chicago 2016 as a case when the organised change of scenery just wasn’t what he felt he needed to perform that week.

Devin Toner Devin Toner, good at basketball. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“On a day off a load of lads went out to the Chicago Bulls (training facility). I was like, ‘nah, I’m good. I’m going to go meet my wife,’ she was over with her mother. So I meet them, chill out, get a massage. You figure out what you want to do.

“Some days you just want to sit around and watch Netflix all day and not talk to a soul.

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“That’s where your rooming buddy becomes important…  you learn how to get on with people. Myself and Church just knew each other inside out. We knew when to talk to each other, knew when to just say nothing and then you’d just hear: ‘brew?’ and we’d both bolt for the door.

“That’s your little home from home.”

Jamie Heaslip and Lynne Cantwell Jamie Heaslip and Lynne Cantwell at the launch of Guinness' five-minute ad, 'Liberty Fields”. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You’ll have an entertainment committee and there’ll be lads organising cinema trips – Thursday if the game is Saturday – there’d be lads going for dinner on a Tuesday night and might have Wednesday off.

“There’s usually some sort of activity planned during the world cup. (in 2015) we went to Alton towers, we went to a driving centre, clay pigeon shooting one Wednesday… there’d be random things on.”

Each one a valuable window of escape from the pressure, driven from all corners, of their task at the World Cup. Get beyond the quarter-finals and the four-month stretch will suddenly feel like a heartbeat for this group.

Source: GuinnessEurope/YouTube

Guinness’ ad “Liberty Fields” tells the inspirational story of a group of women who defied societal norms in 1980s Japan by forming a women’s rugby team.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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