The British and Irish Lions 2013: Inside the mind of Cian Healy
Stamping on Cole and biting allegation on Lions tour have put softly-spoken prop in spotlight
Friday 07 June 2013
You know when Cian Healy is present at an Ireland training camp the moment you drive into the car park of the luxurious Carton House on the outskirts of Dublin City. In a sea of sponsored Volkswagens and Audis, Healy's gigantic Land Rover sticks out like a sore thumb.
The blue-grey Defender Big Foot, with its oversized tyres, tinted windows and air-intake pipe is just one avenue of expression for one of Irish rugby's freer thinkers.
A self-confessed "gym head", Healy manages to dovetail predictable athletic pursuits with his passion for art, DJ-ing and off-roading in his massive 4x4 – pictures of which he posts on Twitter whenever it falls foul of Dublin clampers. Which is often.
However, until February last, the loosehead prop's run-ins with Dublin Council's parking services were his only noteworthy brushes with authority. An Ireland and Leinster regular since 2009 in a particularly abrasive position, the 25-year-old's first appearance before a disciplinary hearing came after he was cited for stamping on England's Dan Cole during Ireland's Six Nations defeat to England.
He was effectively banned for two matches, but the IRB was forced into an embarrassing retreat when Ireland appealed against the convoluted structure of Healy's three-week ban. He returned for the draw with France having missed – and been missed in – the defeat to Scotland.
Cited for allegedly biting Western Force scrum-half Brett Sheehan, Healy was last night facing a disciplinary hearing in Brisbane and the prospect of becoming the first Lion of the professional era to be sent home in disgrace since Danny Grewcock, also for biting, from New Zealand in 2005. That will surely have caused him more pain than the ankle-ligament injury that could well end his tour regardless.
The softly spoken prop may struggle to cope with the opprobrium that will inevitably rain down if he is found guilty, even if he has some limited experience of what to expect in the wake of the stamp on Cole.
Then, the well-known Irish radio and television pundit George Hook fuelled the fires by claiming that he would think twice about recommending his grandchildren play rugby after Healy's ban was reduced to one game.
Also, the player himself revealed that he received a "pretty violent letter into camp. I read the first line and gave it to Mick [Kearney, Ireland team manager] and let him dispose of it," he said. "I wouldn't like to repeat it. It was a rough enough letter," he added at the time, before brushing it off as quickly as he could. "I shifted that one quick enough because it takes a certain type of person to send hate mail. Those people don't really matter to me."
That was about as revealing an interview as Healy has given in his five seasons at the top level of the game in Ireland. Neither rude nor arrogant, Healy usually gives the impression of a man trying to get out of the interview room having given away as little as possible.
An All-Ireland javelin, shot put and discus champion at schools level, Healy's focus on strength-based throwing sports went hand in glove with his schools rugby career, and in 2005 he helped Belvedere College end their 33-year wait for a Leinster Senior Schools title.
International recognition followed at schools, under-19 and under-20 level before, in 2007, the Clontarf FC player made his Leinster debut in an end-of-season Celtic League match against the now defunct Scottish Borders.
It took Healy a couple of seasons to nail down his starting place, but since displacing veteran Stan Wright, he hasn't looked back. Three Heineken Cups, an Amlin Challenge Cup and two league titles have been won as Healy became a crucial member of the formidable Leinster teams of Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt.
And Schmidt's appointment as Declan Kidney's successor as Ireland coach will secure Healy's status as Ireland's first-choice loosehead, with 39 caps racked up since making his debut against Australia in 2009. But, as is often the lot of a prop, Healy has not – until now – grabbed as many headlines as lauded team-mates such as Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Jonny Sexton.
However, he and his good buddy, the Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip, are known to level the playing field with their pranks, once filling Sexton's car with plastic balls from a children's playpen. When Healy cling-filmed Heaslip's jeep to two lamp-posts, the victim gleefully posted the pictures on Twitter.
Healy's interest in art has led to him painting portraits of O'Driscoll and Sexton, while he has more than once performed as a DJ at Ireland's largest music festival Oxegen, under his stage name Proper Church.
Throw in the fact that he is dating model Holly Carpenter and you have all the trappings of a pseudo-celebrity sporting star – except this shy man seems completely disinterested in the limelight.
However, he may now find it hard to stay out of its unwanted glare.
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