Return of Chris Henry an inspiration ahead of Euro clash
Ulster pals hail flanker as he gets back on his bike after heart scare
Shockwaves were sent around the Ulster Rugby camp when it emerged that the popular Chris Henry had required corrective heart surgery, three of the squad's top players have revealed.
Andrew Trimble, Iain Henderson and Jared Payne, all of whom are members of Henry's self-proclaimed 'injured club', spoke exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph at Remus Uomo's Meet the Players event in their flagship store in Victoria Square.
It took brave Henry just seven days to get back into the gym after undergoing a procedure last Monday to repair a defect in his heart wall and the injured trio could not wait to hail the 30-year-old's quick recovery.
"It definitely came as a big shock but thankfully things are looking good and he's doing really well," said Ulster winger Trimble.
An unexpected image of the back row pedalling on a static bike in Ulster Rugby's state-of-the-art gym was posted on Twitter on Monday by Ulster team-mate Darren Cave, along with the words "you can't keep a good man down."
Henry responded by uploading a picture of the view from his exercise bike which overlooked players such as Lewis Stevenson lifting weights ahead of Ulster's European Cup clash at home to Scarlets on Saturday night.
The overjoyed Henry captioned the photograph: "First day back at Kingspan & great to c all the lads! Also never happier to c a bike! Day 1 of #injuredclub."
His welcome return to the Kingspan Stadium comes less than a month after he suffered "a temporary blockage of a small blood vessel in his brain" on the morning of Ireland's clash with South Africa on November 8. The openside flanker complained of migraine-type symptoms just hours before the game and was immediately ruled out of Ireland's autumn internationals opener upon seeking medical attention.
A statement was later issued by Ireland Rugby which said: "Chris Henry suffered some weakness on the morning of the South Africa game and a viral illness was suspected, he recovered quickly and the initial diagnosis was of severe migraine."
But just days later it was announced that Henry's condition was much more serious than first thought.
"It was a massive shock - a bit scary actually," admitted Ulster and Ireland lock Henderson.
"We're all such good friends with him and everyone's on the ringer to him but I think he's been feeling an awful lot better recently," said Henderson, another player who is finally back in the Ulster gym after a recent hip operation.
Although it is unlikely that Henry will make his highly-anticipated return before the end of the 2014/15 season, the Malone man has certainly made incredible steps on the long road to recovery.
Payne, who sprained his foot on his Ireland debut against South Africa, said: "We're just fully stoked to see him back fit and healthy and have a chance to play rugby in a couple of months so that'll be good.
"It's awesome to have him around the place again.
"Chris is a pretty positive person and every time someone talks to him he's always upbeat so it made it a bit easier for everyone but it did come as a really big shock to everyone."
With a "moon boot" on his foot to protect a toe ligament injury sustained against Glasgow Warriors at the start of October, Trimble commented: "It's just really good to see him around the place again and back in the gym."
Unfortunately for Ulster though, the players revealed that their comebacks won't be for another while yet.
While Payne hopes to be back in time for the Christmas fixtures, Trimble's return date is uncertain.
The 30-year-old is, however, hoping that a consultation with the doctor next Wednesday will give him a better idea of the time factor involved.
He said: "I've only got another week left in the boot which is handy.
"I feel like I've only been treading water these last few weeks and I haven't really been progressing but at least getting off the crutches and being able to walk with just the boot on is a step forward in the right direction.
"Hopefully once I'm out of the boot then I'll get rehab and a bit more physio and we'll see how we go."
Henderson added: "I had the operation on my hip eight or nine weeks ago and it'll be another four or five weeks before I'm back yet so hopefully I'll be playing again in the early part of the new year all being well."
And so Ulster's injury woes continue.
For the foreseeable future at least.