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111 is out: Cian Healy’s longevity continues to impress as he eyes O’Gara’s appearance record – The Irish Times

DJ, artist, cutler and barbecue master/chef are just some of the nicknames that have been attributed to Cian Healy, or Church to his friends and teammates, but none of those hobbies, however notable, can overshadow his professional sports career. He lives as a phenomenal rugby player.

On Saturday night in Croke Park, barring something untoward, the 36-year-old could become the most capped player in European Champions Cup/Heineken/Investec history, breaking the tie he currently enjoys with Ronan O ‘Gara, having each played 110 games in the tournament.

Healy is likely to be named on the bench for Leinster’s semi-final clash against Northampton Saints. It will be the second time he has beaten former Munster, Ireland and Lions half-back and current La Rochelle head coach O’Gara in recent months. Healy advanced a Test after winning his 129th cap for Ireland against Scotland, second on the all-time Irish list behind Brian O’Driscoll (133).

Sunday will mark 17 years since 19-year-old Healy made his Leinster debut against the Border Reivers in a league match, the last provincial game at Donnybrook before refurbishment work began. It was the last game for Guy Easterby, Leinster’s current chief operating officer.

Healy played his first European match that same year against Edinburgh and has since won four Champions Cups and a European Challenge Cup. In a recent interview he was asked what advice he would give to young players. “Be yourself, that’s the most important thing,” he said.

“People will have quirks and twists and that’s the fun thing about rugby, it has so many different types of people and they all mix together to form unique teams. Being yourself is important and opening up to the group.”

He has never been anything other than, through some horrendous injuries, through a twilight switch to tighthead prop, replacing hooker in a Test match and through a career in which he has added enormous value to every team for the who played from Belvedere College. at school, through a Gram Slam win in the 20s (2007), Clontarf, Leinster, Ireland and briefly, the Lions.

He is not ready to stop yet, he still has goals and ambitions to achieve, the main objective of which is to win more titles. He said: “It’s something I always say: when it comes to the end of my career, I will count the medals, not the internationals.”

Healy has stepped up all his rugby life and it would be nice to think his historic achievement will receive the ovation it deserves on Saturday night.

HUMBLE PRINCIPLES

Cian Healy’s first European match was a six-minute cameo against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in December 2007, when he replaced Springbok Ollie le Roux in a match which Leinster lost 29-10, a match in which the visitors were twice denied. by TV Officer Tony Rowlands.

His first start in Europe came for Castres Olympique at the Stade Pierre Antoine on 16 December 2008, a week after Leinster defeated the same rival 33-3. An injury to Springbok tighthead CJ van der Linde gave Healy the opportunity, with Stan Wright switching from loosehead to tighthead to accommodate the young Irish prop.

Castres gave his visitors a very difficult time in the scrums. The main beneficiary was Anthony Lagadere, who took six penalties in the 18-15 victory, the French team’s first of the campaign and the first defeat for Michael Cheika’s team, despite scoring tries through fullback Girvan Dempsey and outhalf Johnny Sexton.

Take over as number one

On 25 January 2009, Healy took over as first choice for Leinster in a league match against Edinburgh and held the number one shirt for the rest of the season, until the infamous Bloodgate Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Harlequins in The Stoop. , the semi-final victory over reigning champions Munster before a world record crowd for a club match in Croke Park and the final at Murrayfield.

Leinster beat Leicester Tigers 19-16 in Edinburgh, trailing 13-9 at half-time and survived a foul by Healy’s frontline teammate Stan Wright, with Jamie Heaslip’s try and a late Johnny Sexton penalty earning the victory .

Healy’s direct opponents in the round of 16 were fellow Irish internationals Mike Ross (Harlequins), who would become a Leinster teammate, John Hayes (Munster), a Lion and Ireland legend, and the Italian-born colossus Argentina, Martin Castrogiovanni. . There were very few, if any, doubts about Healy’s pedigree and potential before, but none after. He was long-listed for European Player of the Year 2014.

TRY AND TRY AGAIN

Cian Healy chose to combine his first two tries in Europe with the man of the match award when Leinster beat Clermont Auvergne 24-8 at the Aviva Stadium in 2010 before a record crowd for an Irish province in a Heineken Cup group match . (44.208). Two characteristically powerful shots from close range embellished a magnificent all-round contribution.

The French club would suffer again at the hands of Healy two years later, this time in a semi-final, when the loose prop rose to support a break by Rob Kearney to score the try that finally broke the game in favor of Leinster (19-15 ). Healy also scored a try in the all-Irish final at Twickenham as Leinster beat Ulster. All three of his attempts that season came in Europe.

The following year, 2013, he scored a try from the bench in the European Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais Paris at the RDS as Joe Schmidt closed his time in Leinster. In his 112 appearances in Europe, Healy scored 12 tries (two of them were scored in matches against Saturday’s opponents, Northampton Saints), out of a total of 32.

Known for his drop goal process in pre-match warm-ups, perhaps the only thing he has left to achieve in terms of scoring is doing it during a match.

CENTURION IN HIS OWN WORDS

Healy made his 100th European appearance in Leinster’s 49-14 victory over Gloucester in a pool match at Kingsholm last year.

“There are a lot of important moments in my career and in the history of the club, so to be part of that and get to that point is nice. It was strange for me, coming out of school I didn’t watch much rugby, I watched a few Leinster games but didn’t really know the difference between competitions, so for me (my European debut) it was just another game where I got picked and played.

“My love for that competition has grown through participation rather than watching it and understanding the history by playing. That’s become pretty important to me. I am very fond of them (winning four Champions Cups). (Winning the first in 2009) fueled hunger. So we expected to be there and that was the standard that was set.

WHAT OTHERS SAY

Michael Cheika, former Australia, Argentina and Leinster coach: “Players like Cian brought a different dimension and character to the team and of course he was a different model of rugby player than perhaps we had seen; Speed, footwork, big, strong and playing on the front line.

“He has overcome many injuries. He’s stayed relevant as the game has changed and different coaches have demanded things of him, and he’s just gotten to work. “You never heard much about him, but he has stayed ahead of the game all these years.”

Stuart Lancaster, former England and Leinster coach: “He was a player we always considered a danger because of his sheer physical power, his power in the scrum, but also his loose carrying ability. So when I got there, it was fascinating to train him.

“And in fact, since I’ve been at Leinster, I can count on one hand the number of training sessions he has missed, let alone matches. So his durability, his ability to take care of himself and get the best out of his body, so to speak, and play at the highest level, is incredible.”