Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Leinster's Healy has final focus

Cian Healy insists his mind is on Leinster's bid to wrestle the PRO12 title from Ulster at the RDS on Saturday night
Cian Healy insists his mind is on Leinster's bid to wrestle the PRO12 title from Ulster at the RDS on Saturday night

Cian Healy may not choose to reside in the past but it is impossible for the past not to inhabit him.

Muscle memories course the onward march of every sportsman; Ireland's loose-head prop, and the most outstanding candidate to start for the Lions this summer, is no different.

Of the many stirring images during one of Irish international rugby's most inspiring evenings of recent times, that involving Healy (pictured) despatching Quade Cooper into another postcode with a thunderous tackle was particularly visceral.

Ultimately, that famous November 2011 night in Auckland proved to have little relevance to the rest of Ireland's World Cup campaign or, indeed, the remainder of Declan Kidney's tenure as an international coach.

Healy, man of the match that day, also attempts to strip the enormity of that occasion of all significance.

"It was great," he recalls. "It was nice to get it at a game of that level but look, that's a long time ago and I'm not going to go back to that looking for any inspiration.

"Anything that is ahead with Lions stuff is going to be a new experience and that's how I will treat it. I won't look for any inspiration from what we have done with Ireland. It's going to be set out to do something new."

While Cian Healy may be more comfortable publicly expressing his emotions via the medium of either a ball or a paintbrush, even he cannot fail to be moved by the prestige of a Lions call-up.

"Yeah, it's great," he says. "It's something I enjoyed. I was happy with my family and I enjoyed the whole selection process.

"But it's something I'd parked because I'd a few games in between that selection and getting on the plane.

"So I've kind of come to a realisation that anything can come to happen to you in those games. If you took a knock that could be that. And if I'd built myself up to be in some proud kind of thing with so much history and ended up not going that would be a big let down.

"So I've held off on the emotional side of things until I've become fully involved."

That involvement has been delayed, albeit he has good reason to be bunking off, as he commits to the second-half of Leinster's unprecedented double trophy tilt.

Hence, he has avoided one of Gatland's favourite fads, the cryotherapy chamber, within which players spend 30 seconds in a holding chamber at -70°C, before entering a second chamber for two minutes and 30 seconds at -130°C, all in the cause of preventing muscle damage after exercise.

"It's grand, it's not that bad," says Healy, who has taken the plunge a couple of times in his Leinster career.

"It's not as cold as it sounds."

Playing for the Lions will represent a stark contrast in temperature; Healy, at 25 and with 39 caps behind him, not to mention a hat-trick of Heineken Cups, is primed for such a challenge.

However, Gatland has maintained that those players who have been detained on club duty could hamper their chances of being in that first test starting XV at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on June 22nd.

Healy, who has only had the briefest of engagements with his fellow Lions until now – he admits he hasn't even seen their play-book – isn't too unnerved.

"No, I'll do that after the next game," he says, assessing the appropriate time to worry about the responsibilities of wearing a red jersey. For now, filling the blue of Leinster is paramount as they prepare to tackle Ulster in Saturday's RaboDirect Pro12 final.

"It wouldn't be right if I didn't pay my full attention to Leinster and trying to get our hands on another cup. If I had my mind on something that's not there yet it wouldn't be right.

"The players who are already in the Lions may have an advantage but they're at a disadvantage of not being in another final. You can look at it from any way.

"We're in a final for Leinster, we're paying that a lot of respect. When we get into Lions we will be complete professionals, we'll be sitting down, learning the moves and be up to scratch come training time and that's that."

That familiarisation process – albeit Gatland and his assistants have necessarily restricted how elaborate their calls will be – should be relatively fluid, especially given northern hemisphere players are so familiar with the staccato nature of a season that regularly flits between the provincial and international.

"That depends from person to person," admits Healy.

"I'm alright on learning moves. I can sit myself down and go through a play-book. That's the thing, there is a play-book there.

"We don't have to go out and walk through each and every move. Some places don't use a play-book and you have to do repetition to learn. "These ones, we can read them, we can know where we're supposed to be and can run it straight off."

Healy will be prepared; just as he will be this Saturday in the RDS, regardless of whether it is John Afoa, Declan Fitzpatrick or Ricky Lutton packing down opposite him.

Andrew Trimble has declared that beating Leinster three times would be an awesome achievement; asked to flip that feeling should another league final go begging, Healy is forthright.

"For Leinster to lose this final would be devastating because we've lost those finals before. It doesn't matter what the opposition is. Losing a final is terrible and something we don't want to do. That's something that sticks."

Losing this Saturday is a memory he dare not contemplate for one moment.

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