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Sunday 21 January 2018

Jamie's goal is to get back in blue

No return to play date for Heaslip

Irish and Leinster rugby star Jamie Heaslip at the launch of the 2017 GOAL Miles in Irishtown Stadium. The popular annual fundraiser, which is now in its 36th year, will be staged at more 130 locations nationwide over the Christmas and New Year period. To find your local GOAL Mile, visit www.goalglobal.org Pic: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Irish and Leinster rugby star Jamie Heaslip at the launch of the 2017 GOAL Miles in Irishtown Stadium. The popular annual fundraiser, which is now in its 36th year, will be staged at more 130 locations nationwide over the Christmas and New Year period. To find your local GOAL Mile, visit www.goalglobal.org Pic: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

There was a time when Jamie Heaslip was all about winning.

Now, the Ireland number eight is all about winning the battle to just play again.

When surgery to his lower back failed to work, another operation was chosen in what was a second and last chance.

When Heaslip turned up to support the promotion of the Goal Mile at Irishtown Stadium yesterday, he was reluctant to reveal anything insightful about his physical well-being.

"Which second operation? Who said I had a second operation? Who did?" he countered a question.

Private

"I am not going to give you an answer. I have been very clear on my medical information. It's private.

"You know, I'll get back on the field when I get back on the field. That's as best as I can give you an answer.

"I don't mean to be hard on it," he added.

The Nass man is understandably sensitive about his personal information.

The journalists had to ask and Heaslip answered it the way he wanted. Respect.

Never one to court the media, the son of an Army man may as well be in Beirut for all we have heard about the most difficult period in his career.

Fair enough, this is remake-or-break in the career of Ireland's 'bionic man'.

He has not felt the grass beneath his boots since his late withdrawal from the Ireland verus England Six Nations international in March.

"You've got to remember, I played for 12 years professionally and the longest I've gone since 2005 is two weeks without training.

"This has been a little bit different," he said, in the understatement of the month.

The ultimate professional leaves nothing to chance, not even fate, if he can.

It is when the big games roll around that the pain must be greatest, like Leinster's war with Exeter Chiefs in The Champions Cup at Sandy Park.

"You miss playing those kinds of games like the weekend, those battles," he said.

Life in green has also been a cause for consideration.

"The November Series or opportunities in the summer that have gone. You miss those," he reflected.

"And when you're injured you miss being around the players because you're on a different time-frame.

"You're only overlapping with them at different times."

Then, there are the men he has not been able to get to know the only place it matters in this game - on the field. There are those imported from afar and those made in Leinster.

"I haven't played with Scott Fardy, I haven't played with James Lowe, Jordan (Larmour) or James Ryan, some of the younger lads who broke through at the tail end of last year and kicked on.

"You'd love to be able to play with those guys, so that's a bit frustrating, but you know. I love rugby. I absolutely love it. It's a massive passion."

It remains to be seen whether Ireland's ironman can make it back.

In the meantime, he has had to look on as Jack Conan has taken over the mantle at number eight for his province.

"Like every player, he has work-ons he has to get better," evaluated Heaslip.

"He knows that himself and he's striving to get better. He is playing some great rugby.

"He is a guy that is full of ambition and he knows that it's not easy to remain competitive in that spot for a long period.

"I am a big fan of Jack as a player and, more importantly, as a bloke."

As for Exeter in The Champions Cup, Heaslip was taken with how Leinster were able to stand up in the physical exchanges.

"They really wanted to test our defence," he said.

"Sitting in on the team review, it was really impressive, the effort, in how we went toe-to-toe in that regard.

"Then, we showed patience when we had the ball as well," he said.

"If you are in their shoes, it's a must-win game to remain competitive in the group."

All he wants to do is get back to running out in Blue and Green.

If any man can, Heaslip can.

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