Jamie Heaslip: In 2009 we lost the Six Nations trophy on a night out in Naas

From fatherhood and Paw Patrol, to taking a seat at the commentators’ table –Jamie Heaslip on life after professional rugby. By Kate Demolder
Jamie Heaslip: In 2009 we lost the Six Nations trophy on a night out in Naas

RTÉ and Virgin Media Television rugby commentator Jamie Heaslip, at the Aviva Stadium Dublin ahead of the start of the Six Nations Rugby Championships. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Jamie Heaslip doesn’t answer my call because he’s changing a nappy. He rings right back though, apologising and laughing while his shoulder holds the phone up to his ear: “I thought it would be appropriate to finish here first.”

A few things come to mind when discussing Heaslip. Rugby, naturally; a former Irish rugby union player for Leinster and Ireland and widely considered the best no. 8 we’ve ever had. Tech, sure; Heaslip worked in Google for a time and now pivots between investing and promoting start-ups. And pub landlord; he acts as owner and director of Dublin bars Lemon & Duke and The Bridge 1859, respectively. It’s a full-circle move, he shares, as his first job was collecting glasses in now-defunct pubs and nightclubs in the North Kildare sphere.

“I was sent out to work every summer to earn money to keep me going. I was a kitchen porter in Craddockstown Golf Club way back when, a security guard in the Square, Tallaght one time, I can’t even remember what else,” he muses. “When I started in [rugby] academies, it was class, as they gave you a bit of pocket money to work with. Contrary to what my siblings would say, I’m actually not the spoilt youngest child they’d tell you I was!”

These days, work centres, mainly, around rugby still, despite other impressive side hustles. He’s speaking with us today about RTÉ Sport’s Six Nations Coverage, a gig that makes him nostalgic, for obvious reasons. “I’m retired nearly four years,” he says, “and haven’t played a game in nearly five due to injury. I was very lucky with my career and the opportunities rugby presented to me, but I honestly don’t miss it, in a weird way. Elite sports are all-consuming and inherently quite selfish, so I’m happy enough these days to be able to enjoy family time while also being involved a little bit with commentary as such.

Saying that, we were launching the coverage the other day and I saw the Six Nations Cup — and all I could think of was “oh my God, I’ve drunk so much beer out of that trophy.

Born in Tiberias, Israel, while his father retired Brigadier General Richard Heaslip was on UN Interim Force duty in Lebanon, 38-year-old Heaslip, the youngest of four children, found himself home in Naas before his second birthday, where dreams of national rugby began.

“It was a case of monkey see, monkey do,” he says. “I was dragged out, along with my brothers who were a bit older than me, to The Curragh Rugby Club, then Naas Rugby Club, along with every other sport that is all-go at the time, and it all kicked off from there.” 

He attended Newbridge College, a co-educational rugby school in south Kildare, followed by DCU and Trinity, where his skills were honed enough to allow him to star him in the U-21 World Cup, held in Scotland, where Heaslip was later nominated for the IRB Under-21 World Player of the Year.

His successive accolades read like Roman myths; 95 caps for Ireland, winner of the men’s 15s try of the decade in 2016, a Grand Slam, three Heineken Cups, two Pro12s as well as being the starting number eight for successive Lions Test series. 

'I was very lucky with my career and the opportunities rugby presented to me, but I honestly don’t miss it'
'I was very lucky with my career and the opportunities rugby presented to me, but I honestly don’t miss it'

His tenure — a time almost completely without major injury which saw him referred as everything from ‘a freak of nature’ (SportsJoe) to ‘Mr Indestructible’ (Irish Times) — was legendary, eventually retiring, to the upset of anyone who knows the lyrics to Ireland’s Call, in 2018. Since then he’s gone into the worlds of punditry, angel investment, ambassadorship and become a dad, twice.

“I’m in a house full of women, which is something I am not really used to,” he laughs. “But I’m kind of looking forward to all the learning that comes with that.” 

Three-and-a-half-year-old Harper rules the roost, he insists, ruling the remote control dictatorship to allow only a Paw Patrol and Lion King television supremacy. And the newest addition, Evie Billie, “just sleeps and eats all the time” according to her older sister.

Lucky Sheena and Jamie. The pair wed in the capital back in 2016, cementing their long-term relationship at a ceremony resplendent with Irish society’s familiar faces. Their life appears remarkably normal, such is the expectation of two small children this writer thinks, for a couple whose relationship has appeared in numerous Ross O’Carroll Kelly columns.

These days it’s more Ted Lasso than fancy events (the pair are partial to an episode of Love Island, however, and even boast the personalised water bottles associated with the show). “I have to say it is nice that Ross [O’Carroll Kelly] still thinks of me,” Jamie grins. “And that I’ve managed to get a look in alongside with his love affair with Drico and Sexto!

But in all honesty, rugby has afforded me some of these mad, surreal experiences and that is just one of them. Another was practising tackling at about two in the morning with Marcus Mumford at Oxegen, or losing the Six Nations trophy on a night out in Naas! I’ll often look back at moments like that and think ‘how did that even happen?’

On the topic of unbelievable situations, we get to pranks. Heaslip is partial to one while in camp, if rumours are to be believed, with one such instance reflected for all to see on his personal Instagram. “Paul O’Donoghue, God love him,” he sighs. “Myself and Cian Healy and Eoin O’Malley would regularly go out of our way to do something to Paulie, and one year we spent three hours fully covering his Scirocco in Post-Its. The guards even turned up and thought we were robbing the car! Paulie was always, always late for training so when he got to his car and saw them all, he took off enough to drive and just headed out. He said it was grand when he was driving as the wind drove them up, but every red light or stop sign brought them back down again.

“There was also one time when we got bricks and quick-drying cement and made a wall outside his front door. Then he let off rockets outside his gaff only for him to wonder what the hell was going on when he was faced with another wall! God love him.”

As for probes on juicier iterations, I’m met with the usual, “what goes on tour stays on tour”, piquing my interest, and I’m sure yours, all the more. (“Sexton did kidnap my dog one year though, let it be known”.) But those days are behind him, he assures me, despite disrupting the norm still being on the brain.

“I’ve always been very into tech,” he says, “I like companies that come in and ask “why?” when things can be done differently. What can we do better? I like working with disruptors.

“I also invest in a couple of firms, one of which was sold to Google. Right now I spend most of my time working with (FinTech company) Flender — but it depends on the day of the week. I’m definitely more of an angel investor than anything else. I don’t follow the money in. I prefer to have a small slice of a big pie than a big slice of a small pie.”

HE recently labelled friend and former dognapper Sexton as Ireland’s best-ever player, saying that the 36-year-old, who recently claimed his 100th cap, is a number 10 for the ages.

“He just puts his head down and goes hard at it. He could easily sit on his laurels, but he’s gonna go out fighting and screaming and that’s the player he is. The work he puts in behind the scenes is actually indescribable and the approach he has to the game is second to none.”

As a Six Nations commentator, Heaslip will be there, alongside us, to see Ireland’s captain continue to trailblaze in the way he’s become known for. As for his plans for the season is over, it definitely won’t be heading Kildare-side with the trophy-in-tow. “After a bit of panic when we realised we lost the cup, it turns out a group of girls had taken it to the bathroom to get pictures with it! The bouncers went and got it so it was grand, but thank God social media wasn’t a big thing back in 2009!”

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