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'I'm not one to roll over' - Five years on from potential career-ending injury, Cian Healy ready for century milestone

Independent.ie logo Independent.ie 27/10/2020 David Kelly

CIAN Healy stared into the ocean five years ago from the stunning Amalfi coast but all he could see was time’s tide ebbing slowly away.

He had left Dublin behind, but only for a short while; his career was something else. That looked it was gone forever, sinking like the setting sun beyond the horizon.

As the turbulence within rolled as tumultuously as the blue sea, on a kitchen table nearby lay the piece of paper which condemned him to premature retirement.

All the insurance papers required were his signature.

He was not yet 30 but hadn’t he a storied career? A Lion, a Grand Slammer, a multiple European Cup winner. Not too shabby for a former shot-putter.

But when all felt lost, when the shattered nerves in his right arm seemed set to guide his destiny, a sudden twitch alerted him.

He never picked up the pen.

Instead of writing his sporting death warrant, he once more became author of his own destiny.

Not surprisingly, Healy praised the multiple medics and coaches who, he admits, “brought me back from the brink.”

His mind needed to be healed as well as his body.

“A bit of a drive personally. I’m not that type of person to settle down too easily and roll over.”

Initially simply existence, rather than any grand extended career ambition, moved him from one day to the next.

“It was broken down into so many stages. The first stage of that was be a functional human again and open the door with the keys and stuff like that.

“Then 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 though those goals to get into the international team again.

“And then get to the standard, 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.”

The game never changed him but he had to change his game; Sexton joked that he played like a centre on his debut against Australia in 2009.

“A good bit!” he admits. “Realistically I got away with murder when I was younger, I wouldn’t do a lot of the dog work.

“I’d hang off a nine or ten to carry a ball and only hit six or seven rucks a game! Now you’re required to do an awful lot more work and getting on the end of the ball is part of a plan, it doesn’t happen by accident any more.

“In 2009, I just remember it was class being in Croker and there were so many big names in our team which kind of shocked me a bit.

“I was young and cocky and confident in myself and young and I got a bit of slagging for it. But some of that confidence goes a long way.

“I remember Paulie tapped me down a ball from a kick-off and that was my one outstanding memory of that game, I got a bit of a run off it.

“I still love getting a chance to carry the ball, running through holes and fending off lads, it’s the most enjoyable part of the game for me.”

Remarkably, he went to the 2015 World Cup when nobody had deemed it possible; five years, and another World Cup down, he heads to Paris to earn a 100th cap and another title tilt.

“It’s something quite special for myself and my family and people around me. I’m trying to pass it off and not let it hang over me, hopefully get selected because there is something bigger to play for.

“I’m trying to brush it away and focus on the bigger picture.”

Healy paints pictures part-time; he knows when there is still a finishing touch required.

Whatever Andy Farell’s men achieve this weekend will pale in comparison to the extraordinary career renaissance of only the sixth Irish player – after Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell, John Hayes and Rory Best - to hit the century mark for his country.

“It’s an incredible feat,” says his captain and good friend Jonathan Sexton.

“You look at the guys who have 100 caps, how special a player they are, you don't get there easily,” says Sexton knowingly.

"I think every player that's in that category are legends of the game, really, in Ireland and I think he'll add himself to that legacy if he gets that 100th cap.

"Like he deserves it, he's so professional in the way he goes about his business, he's had one particularly bad injury to come back from and once he did he put an unbelievable amount of work in to get himself back.

"So I'm absolutely chuffed for him, I'm very good friends with him obviously first and foremost, I know his family very well and his wife, Laura, and I know they'll be so proud of him.

"Yeah, it's another layer onto our story in terms of if it is his 100th cap, we want to honour him in the best way possible which would be to try and win the game.”

The team’s ambitions will dominate Healy’s agenda this week, not his coincidental milestone.

“Not on a personal level. This is an opportunity to win a medal and win a trophy and play with the lads. That’s the goal. Hopefully I get a shot.”

When he does, he will give it everything. Easy when you know what it was almost felt like to have nothing it all to give.

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