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Chris Henry joy at Irish return but Ulster loss still hurts

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 28/05/2015

Ireland’s call: Chris Henry during the Captain’s Run yesterday at Thomond Park, Limerick
Ireland’s call: Chris Henry during the Captain’s Run yesterday at Thomond Park, Limerick

The last time Chris Henry woke up on the morning he was due to play an international match things went horribly wrong and that memory won't be lost on the Ulster flanker when he dons the green jersey once again this evening.

In the days after he suffered a mini-stroke on the day of the win over South Africa, the 30-year-old feared he would never play rugby again.

Now, instead of battling for his health, he is in a fight for World Cup places that begins against the Barbarians at Thomond Park (7.45pm).

"The first wee while I was waiting to hear what on earth was going on and doctors were saying to me, 'It could be this, it could be that', so yeah there was a stage where I was getting myself ready I suppose for the worst-case scenario but fortunately it wasn't," he recalled.

"I'm so lucky I had such incredible medical advice from the beginning and things moved really quickly for me and when I got that call and knew I'd be back playing, I was extremely relieved as you can imagine.

"Look, it's not a full Test match but it's still an Ireland Test and to be back involved with these group of guys I just feel very lucky and that's how I've approached every game back with Ulster.

"I didn't think I would be back as early as I was with Ulster so I feel very lucky.

"For me as well, it's different, other lads are really ready for their summer but I feel like it's November time. I'm tired from the game but mentally I still feel very fresh."

Being ensconced in Ireland camp and getting a refresher course in the ways of Joe Schmidt have come at a good time for Henry who is still devastated by Ulster's PRO12 semi-final defeat to Glasgow Warriors on Friday night.

"I feel sorry for the guys left at home because I'm still sick to my stomach and I think everyone is," he said.

"That game, out of all the big games we've lost, European Cup finals, league finals, semi-finals, that was the one I really thought we were in control of and should have won, could have won and having the home final...

"It's amazing to be back in this environment, at one stage I didn't think I'd be back in a green shirt and to get a chance is amazing but obviously deep down I'm devastated I'm not in Belfast preparing for a home final. Such is the way sport is.

"We didn't do enough, we didn't control the game that wee bit.

"I think there were a few massive instances in the game which affected us but, look, it's the way it is and I'm so glad to be back involved.

"The camp, although it's been short, there's been a real atmosphere and it's been good to step away from an Ulster jersey and move on because I would have hated to have signed off for the season losing the semi-final and this is a great way, this is my third time playing against a Baa-Baas team and it's always tough but really enjoyable."

Disappointed as he is, Henry can't help drawing some perspective from his illness and that dramatic day in November.

"I'm trying to enjoy the small things, because it was a bizarre situation," he explained.

"As time goes on I'm sure that that will fade, but at the moment I'm trying to keep a smile on my face, to enjoy being back in this environment and being around the calibre of players and coaches we have.

"I realised that I missed it an awful lot, so I'm trying to cherish the time that I have."

His return adds to Schmidt's back-row options and Sean O'Brien's displays in his absence will make it hard but Henry has hit form since returning and will look to remind everyone of what he can do.

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