Cian Healy blazes a trail from sensational debut to centurion

'The debut that he had was filled with line breaks. It was like he was playing centre'
Cian Healy blazes a trail from sensational debut to centurion

Cian Healy at the IRFU High Performance Centre, Sport Ireland Campus, Blanchardstown yesterday. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Cian Healy doesn't remember much about his Ireland debut. There was the buzz of making it at Croke Park and the belated shock at seeing the gaggle of big names next to his own on the teamsheet that day in 2009.

One of the biggest was Paul O'Connell, who tipped the kick-off down in his direction and allowed the then 22-year old to launch the first bullocking run of a test career that will, barring injury, see him bring up the ton of caps in France this Saturday.

He could offer little more in the way of recollection yesterday, but Jonathan Sexton added a little colour between the lines. Now his country's captain, Sexton's debut would follow a week later against Fiji. He took in Healy's opening audition from the bench.

“The debut that he had was filled with line breaks. It was like he was playing centre. The way he announced himself on the international stage, and to stay there for so long, and bounce back from the injuries he had, he’s just been a credit to himself and his family."

Sexton's own memory isn't perfect. He seemed to suggest his Leinster teammate has never played for the Lions when in fact he did line out briefly before injury curbed his tour of Australia in 2013. Sexton did add that Healy could yet make the trip to South Africa next summer.

Making that tour would be an extraordinary achievement for a man who is now 33 years of age, but then Healy has already defeated bigger odds in resurrecting a career that, as Sexton intimated, was almost ended prematurely by serious injury.

Go back five years and he was mulling over the insurance papers that would end his career because of a neck injury which had caused serious nerve damage in his right hand. Thoughts of playing in green, let alone red, were a long way removed at that point.

“It was broken down into so many stages,” he said of the recovery process. “The first stage of that was to be a functional human again and open the door with the keys and stuff like that. Each time I became capable of something I’d work on another new standard that I could work on, something else more achievable.

“I’d build through them and keep progressing through those goals to get into the international team again. And then get to the standard of the international team.

Then it was a constant drive for fitness and getting my standards up because rugby keeps moving on. So you look at lifestyle changes and all of that.

Healy survived that scare but he has thrived for 11 years at the top end, and at the sharpest end, of a brutally attritional game that has undergone wholesale changes in terms of everything from rules to the body shape of players to tactics.

He spoke yesterday of how his younger self got away with murder loitering near the 9s and 10s waiting for the chance to carry while others might have done the dog work, but he learned quickly and continues to make deposits to his data bank.

The first lockdown was used as a sabbatical and an opportunity to not just extend his career but work on areas that could offer him the best possible quality of life long after he has dipped his head into one last scrum for club or country.

The recovery system fitted at home should help keep that day at arm's length a while longer and add to a century of caps that, whatever happens beyond this week, will leave him in a select company of Irishmen that currently only stands at five.

“I’m not that type of person to settle down too easily and roll over,” Healy said.

Far from it.

Meanwhile, Bernard Le Roux will be able to face Ireland at the weekend after a disciplinary hearing yesterday afternoon. The France lock had appeared to strike Alun Wyn Jones in the head during last Saturday's defeat of Wales at Stade de France.

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