By Brendan O'Brien
Felipe Contepomi floated a theory earlier this week about how rugby players are beginning to merge into a one-size-fits-all body shape.
One look at Devin Toner and Luke McGrath on the same field is enough to discredit that but the Argentinian’s point, if taken less literally, holds some water even if it still isn’t so hard to spot the ‘fatties’ from the ‘flyboys’.
Cian Healy may well be the poster boy for the new athletic prototype. A hulking 125kg at the 2015 World Cup, the Leinster prop decided less could be more in the summer of 2017 and shed over 10 kilos before returning to duty and putting in a redemptive campaign with club and country.
Beset by injury worries for too many years, he was a man reborn, reclaiming the No 1 jerseys for club and country from Jack McGrath and delivering the sort of performances that once made him a pick for the British and Irish Lions. He laughed when told of Contepomi’s thoughts.
Healy is weighing in somewhere between 112-114 kilos right now and is confident that he can improve again — as he feels he has done each of the last three seasons. A more-than-decent painter in his day, he has ditched the brushes for a sideline in crafting cooking knives. Not just because he is into his slow roasts and barbecues but because he would be “tormented” if he had nothing to turn to after a day’s training.
“I’m enjoying it. It came out of cooking and barbecuing and getting obsessed with what I was using to do it. I met a knifemaker from Cork who told me a bit about it and I just followed and gave it a lash.”
Healy was just 19 when he debuted for Leinster and 22 when recording the same honour for Ireland. He was winning major trophies when most props his age were looking wistfully at teamsheets and yet he looks back now at the innocence of youth.
He describes his younger self as small and headstrong when starting out, a man who wanted to change the idea of what a loosehead prop was, but he has been fortunate to profit from changes to the scrums laws which have served to depower the behemoths.
“I came in trying to change the position so I was happy enough the game stayed fast and got faster. It suited me. The scrum changing was probably a nice thing. No ‘touch, pause, engage’. The big, heavy lads didn’t have a run at me, that suited the way I played.”
There has been perspective too.
Few would have expected Healy to outlast his great pal Jamie Heaslip in the pro ranks, especially when he himself was combating neck and hand injuries, but he could yet have five or more years left in him at this gig.
“You can’t get romantic about it. You have to get on with your job. Emotionally, having him around, you’d miss him in the building because we’d have gone for coffees and stuff, but he lives on the way home, so I’m calling in a lot of days. The outside relationship doesn’t take a knock from him not being in rugby.”