Healy banking on fans to neutralise enemy territory

Healy banking on fans to neutralise enemy territory
Leinster Rugby Press Conference, Leinster HQ, UCD, Dublin 20/5/2019 Cian Healy. Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

It’s eight years since Leinster faced an ‘away’ league final. Thomond Park in 2011 made for a hostile environment as Joe Schmidt’s side went about backing up the Heineken Cup won by dint of an extraordinary comeback against Northampton Saints the week before.

And it didn’t end well. Ahead with 14 minutes still to play, they fell away in the closing stretches to finish out on the wrong end of a 19-9 scoreline against Munster in front of a near-capacity crowd in Limerick.

Four of the five league deciders they have played since have been played in Dublin. The other, the loss to Connacht three years ago, passed off in the neutral surrounds of Murrayfield. On Saturday, they face Glasgow in Glasgow.

Leo Cullen has already ruffled feathers by claiming the majority of Warriors fans are Rangers supporter, but that doesn’t change the fact that it will be Leinster in ‘enemy territory’ at the weekend.

“It’s a different ground, I don’t think they’ve played there (either),” said Cian Healy. “We haven’t played there so it’s kind of open territory.

Their support will be big enough but the travelling support we’ve had in the last while has been incredible.

Healy, like so many of his colleagues of late, went on to wax lyrical about the welcome Leinster received from their supporters when pulling up to St James’ Park for the Champions Cup final earlier this month. The thinking is that anything similar would go a long way to neutralising the stadium this time around, but the province won’t bring anything like the numbers that travelled to Newcastle.

The PRO14 Is still a long way removed from Europe in the minds of your average Irish rugby fan and many Leinster supporters will baulk at the cost of another day out in another legendary football stadium.

Healy isn’t one of those who will be exercised to any greater degree by the historic surrounds, even if Charlie O’Leary, the diminutive kit man for the Republic of Ireland during Jack Charlton’s time, is a relative.

Healy has professed himself a fan of Robbie Brady in the past, and attended the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Wales back in 2017 at the Aviva Stadium, but he is pleading ignorance when it comes to soccer now.

“I don’t follow football. I don’t have time to follow football. I’ve heard about Celtic Park and I’ve obviously heard about Celtic but I’ve no major interest. My mates told me the stadium is called Paradise. He is, he says, something of a ‘stray dog’ in the Healy clan in that regard but there was a greater eagerness to engage when the talk veered towards the familiar, especially Sean Cronin’s try against Munster last weekend.

Not because it was the score that broke the game in Leinster’s favour. And it wasn’t down to the fact that it came against their great rivals, or even for the reason that the fluid score all but booked their place in a PRO14 decider. Cronin had already claimed a dozen ties in 18 games for Leinster prior to it so there was no novelty value in that either.

The joy extracted from it came from the fact that the last three players to touch the ball were members of the front row union. Furlong-Healy-Cronin: it has a nice ring to it. Even in print.

“That’s nice isn’t it? I enjoyed that,” said Healy. “I didn’t have the energy to celebrate like Tadhg but I enjoyed it … It’s a straight drill that we do in training. It’s pretty good to see it being directly transferred into a game.” It was, if nothing else, a pleasing passage for a team that had struggled to break down Saracens the week before when a fifth European Cup title had eluded their grasp.

“We turned the page quickly in here and got moving on the week. It was creeping up on me during some basic stuff - cooking dinner - thinking about the ‘what ifs,’ which you have to slap out of your head a bit and stay focused.

“It probably just showed to myself that it did hurt. I don’t want it to happen again.”

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