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Heaslip has earned the right to visit foreign fields

By Robert Jones

This time around, there was no drawn-out saga. Toulon dangled a house upon the Cote D'Azur before him in 2014, Montpellier threw open their facilities to the eager visitor and, amongst others, Racing 92 and Grenoble had also sniffed out the potentially itchy-footed back-rower.

Burned by the prospect of Ireland's leading stars playing themselves off in negotiations between the IRFU and deep French pockets, there seems to have been much less enthusiasm in France during this round of negotiations.

Instead, Jamie Heaslip's CV was circulated amongst French clubs but, beyond that, there seems to have been much less enthusiasm to engage in a fruitless round of opaque auctioneering.

When Heaslip flatly refused to discuss his contract status ahead of the 6 Nations trip to Rome last week, the reasoning was much more anodyne than might have been imagined in previous times.

For the deal had already been concluded.

Essentially, it means that Heaslip will be retained by the IRFU until the last ball is kicked at the 2019 World Cup in Japan; the 33-year-old wondered 12 months ago if he would even make it that far but his durability means that his presence there is almost a given.

What happens next remains unclear; Gordon D'Arcy signed a short-term deal before the last competition with the IRFU but, when he failed to make the cut, he had not been retained by Leinster and drifted slowly into retirement.

Heaslip's trajectory may more closely align itself with that of Paul O'Connell's end-game, if not following an exactly similar path.

O'Connell decided before the last World Cup that he wanted to be released early from his contract to pursue a career in Toulon; injury would scupper that dream even though the IRFU granted him his wish of an early release.

Heaslip will, therefore, have two options open to him and they will fully engage his desire to justifiably ensure that his personal interests are central.

He can either finish his career with Leinster in the summer of 2020, following the 2019 World Cup, even beyond should he so wish, though he will be 36 by then.

Or, he could finally pursue the options abroad that he has thus far resiled from since making his Ireland debut in 2005 and take up what may still be eager interest from overseas, whether France or even Japan.

For now, he has plenty of road left, as evidenced by yet another storming display as captain - in place of Ulster's Rory Best - of the side that dismantled Italy in Rome last weekend.

Much of the credit, he has readily acknowledged, is hewn from the unique status of his position within a widely-admired system whereby his work-load is managed by his employers, rather than exploited.

The experiences of Jonathan Sexton in Racing 92 and the subsequent toll taken on his body by constant travelling between France and Ireland, has served as a warning sign to other potential exiles.

Yet Heaslip's remarkable durability since making his Irish debut in 2005 has not merely been down to being cosseted by the Union here or, indeed, any sense that mere luck has played its part, although obviously it helps.

But, from start-ups to restaurants to bars, Heaslip has always been minded to think of his future financial well-being which may be as uncertain as the present, where career-ending injury can strike at any moment; two of his fellow 2005 debutants, Ulsterman Stephen Ferris and Luke Fitzgerald, had quit before they reached 30.

He has been worth every penny. And, should he decide to leave for one final swansong, few would begrudge him the opportunity.

Belfast Telegraph

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