One of the great characters of the game, the popular Cork man’s career spanned the amateur and professional eras, but the decision to call time was made for him, he said, after he aggravated a pectoral muscle in his 163rd and final game for Munster, against Ospreys in May.
“I had injured the pec against Connacht at Christmas and at that stage the medics reckoned it was a career-ending injury,” he explained. “But I’d been in this position before, had an operation on it in January, and with the help of the Munster medical team and fitness coaches, I got back into contention for selection for end-of-season games.
“However, I took another knock in that game against the Ospreys and, soon after, accepted what the medics were telling me and decided to call it a day.”
Out of contract with Munster, Sheahan had planned to continue his career in the Top 14 in the coming season. Brive, which has England internationals Andy Goode, Steve Thompson and Riki Flutey on its books, offered him a two-year deal but last night Sheahan admitted that he’d need to be to “100% right” to make that move.
“The news on my injury was very disappointing but I’m a believer that things happen for a reason. It (retirement) hasn’t hit me yet, but it will hit me at some stage. I spoke to other players who’ve retired and they’ve compared it to a death in the family. There’s a bit of that to it. I just have to be positive, take the fond and great memories, the friends, the supporters, all the good things that have come with it. I’m so appreciative to have gone through all that really.”
The 32-year-old was part of the first wave of professional players in this country and, along with other recent retirees like Anthony Foley, John Kelly and Anthony Horgan, helped transform Munster into a European force around the turn of the millennium.
Sheahan’s rugby education began at Cork Constitution, furthered at PBC and he won his first Munster senior cap against Western Samoa at Musgrave Park in November 1996. In the course of his Munster career, he scored 21 tries, 11 of those in the Heineken Cup.
“I always remember the time Paul Cunningham’s back went and I was brought in to sit on the bench for Terry Kingston in ‘96. To be behind someone like Terry, an absolute legend of the game, was something else. Then it was great to play with stalwarts like Keith Wood, ‘Paco’ Fitzgerald, Paul McCarthy, Len Dineen, Ultan O’Callaghan and others.
“Looking at it back then and comparing to what it is now, it’s phenomenal the way things have changed. When I was first involved Jerry Holland, our coach, used to take training in Limerick on a Tuesday night and on a Thursday night in Cork. There was a bite to eat after and you’d get home at about 11 o’clock. That’s the way it was – there was nothing about diet, very little about fitness training.”
A hard grafter and good scrummager, Sheahan enjoyed many great days in red, particularly in the Heineken Cup, with the win over Toulouse in Bordeaux in 2000 amongst many highlights. But he describes Munster’s 16-14 triumph over Stade Francais at Stade Jean Bouin in 2002 as one of his proudest moments.
“We’ve to give a lot of credit to the likes of Declan Kidney and Niall O’Donovan who were our coaches then. They saw it as an area where traditionally Munster and Irish teams were struggling.
“We managed to conquer those fears that we had and that was the start of the real breakthrough for us.”
In 2005, the Toronto-born hooker became just the seventh player to win 100 Munster caps and he would go on to win a further 63, including playing a major role in last November’s spectacular showing against the All Blacks at Thomond Park.
His international career began against the USA in June 2000, after which he went on represent his country 29 times, competing at various times for the hooker’s jersey with Keith Wood, Shane Byrne and Jerry Flannery. His last cap came against France at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
He might well have won more Ireland caps only for misfortune to strike in October 2005, when suffering a serious neck injury. He missed out on playing in the 2006 Heineken Cup final but returned to competitive action the following season playing in 16 Magners League and six Heineken Cup pool games.
In May 2008, he made his third Heineken Cup final matchday squad (2000, ‘02 and ‘07) as Munster claimed their second title in three seasons. beating Toulouse.
Married to Norma and kept busy with two young kids (Frankie Óg and Cally), Sheahan is doing contract work with O2, and is exploring a number of opportunities. He is also developing a reputation as a rugby analyst. “I’d love to develop a career in the media but I’m open to business opportunities. I’d love to get involved in sports management, looking after the welfare of sports people.”