Newly-retired Frankie Sheahan is ready to revel in the glory days with Cork Con, Munster and Ireland. But he’s looking forward too, writes Michael Moynihan
AFTER a long career as a professional athlete, Frankie Sheahan rises to the bait when you point to the fried egg he’s having for breakfast.
Where’s the fruit and muesli gone?
“It’s strange in a lot of ways,” he laughs. “On a Sunday I’d have a knot in the stomach, thinking of the week’s training or the fitness sessions. Looking back it was normality at the time, but it meant constant stress on the body.
“During the off-season you could abuse the body a bit with fast food or whatever for the few weeks, but at the back of your mind you knew you’d pay for it. Now you can have a fry in the morning, a few chips at lunchtime, and it’s not the end of the world.
“From my point of view – and it’s a credit to the Munster system – one thing is that I’d know what’s good and bad for me, and when I get back on track fitness-wise I’d know what’s good for me in terms of diet and so on. But I’m enjoying myself at the moment.”
Sheahan has ended his career in “good shape”, as he says himself.
“Apart from the knee and my pec muscle I’m in good shape. People had a perception I was dogged with injuries, but that’s not the case. I had a neck injury but I was fit for a lot longer than a lot of fellas; the injury I had was probably more costly in terms of caps and my career.”
The playing days were sprinkled with good days, from start to finish.
“It’s all at the time. I’d go back to winning a first AIL title with Cork Con. That was an unbelievable day.
“So was the day I made my Munster debut. Going on the road with Munster, winning away against the odds in France in particular, that was tremendous. The Miracle Match’ was fantastic, winning by the exact score – the intensity, the whole thing epitomised everything Munster was all about.”
Famously, Sheahan knew the points difference Munster needed in that game to beat Gloucester. He didn’t broadcast the information to all and sundry, though.
“My father had gone through all the stats but I’d only been half-listening to him talk about it, to be honest. He kept saying ‘you never know, this could be important’, so I knew in the back of my mind what the story was.
“It was chaotic at the time and it was probably no harm I didn’t mention it, because it was all about winning the game first.”
One of the low points was being replaced for Ireland. He widens that into a fair defence of men who wear the number two jersey.
“Getting taken off before half-time in an Ireland-Scotland game was very disappointing. The line-out didn’t function, and it hadn’t functioned the previous game.
“And the more it didn’t go right the more pressure came on me. In fairness, the line-out that time was at a different stage to what it later became for Ireland and Munster. We learned a lot from that season in terms of video analysis.
“I certainly did, I decided that nothing like that would ever happen to me again – I said I’d take ownwership of the line-out and started calling them myself.
“And we all took it differently after that in terms of examining options and so on, and now it’s taken for granted that Ireland and Munster will win all their own line-outs, I suppose.”
So blaming the hooker or line-out malfunction ...
“Is an easy cop-out. I’ve seen line-outs being lost where the hooker’s throw-in has been absolutely perfect, when the person making the calls has been to blame.
“There are also times when the opposition is just so good they pick them off even when the throw is completely on the money.
“But definitely a second row calling the line-out can make an ass out of his hooker with the calls – I advise hookers to take ownership of the line-out completely and to be one hundred per cent comfortable with the calls that are being made.
“I’d see 75 per cent of the hooker’s job as being mental, the way they handle themselves when they lose a throw and the doubts start coming in. And you just have to learn to deal with that. You can’t teach a 20-year-old or 22-year-old that, as a hooker they have to go through that and face what I’d call the negative monsters they’ll come up against at some stage in their careers.”
Among the opponents he rates is one grizzled adversary: “Mario Ledesma is as good as you’ll come across. He’s old school, a very good scrummager and his throwing has come on a lot, he’s a good ball-carrier as well.”
Among those he doesn’t rate ... a Sunday newspaper columnist’s recent comments on drug use in Irish rugby isn’t spare.
“I know there were incidents recently in Bath, maybe there’s more of a culture of that in Britain, I don’t know. I never saw or heard of any player taking recreational or performance-enhancing drug in Ireland.
“For Neil Francis to make those comments ... sometimes stupid journalists can provoke with stupid comments simply because they can’t come up with a good slant. Somebody like George Hook can be quite witty the way he makes a point, but Neil Francis to come out with those sorts of comments doesn’t reflect well on him – and all the players who played with and against him.
“He’s probably delighted with the publicity he’s gotten out of this but I couldn’t see those comments being accurate in any way. If they are then why doesn’t he name people?”
Having gone over to the dark side himself to an extent, Sheahan acknowledges there’s some responsibility among the fourth estate – “I suppose I’m on the other side of it a bit, doing some media work; there are good guys who’ll say it the way it is – I’d have good time for Donal Lenihan and the way he analyses games,” but Sheahan has other responsibilities. Now working with his brother in their mortgage company, Sheahan is branching out into event management and player representation as well as some media work and motivational speaking.
“There’s a lot to be going on with,” he says. “The advice I got from people was to get on with it, I’m like everybody else with a mortgage I got at the height of the boom and two small kids. I just wanted to get on with it – and to take a break from rugby before I think about getting back into it.”
* Frankie Sheahan’s testimonial dinner takes place tomorrow night at the Rochestown Park Hotel, Cork. All his Munster colleagues will attend. Alan Shortt is MC and Pat Shortt will also be there. Contact Joey Sheahan for ticket information on 086 8060601.
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