Three members of Ireland's Grand Slam-winning team have announced their retirements in the last few months, with Jamie Heaslip this week forced to follow the lead of Donncha O'Callaghan and Tommy Bowe and step away from rugby. The latter two will do so at the end of the season, while injury has forced Heaslip to end his career with immediate effect.
Speaking to Balls, O'Callaghan perfectly summed up Heaslip's career and legacy, citing the attitude and mindset Heaslip brought to the Irish dressing room as one of his greatest strengths. That legacy, says O'Callaghan, is still being felt. "I'm gutted to hear about Jamie, he was such a standard-setter around the Irish environment and that will be sorely missed. Very few guys come in like him. Everyone lists off all Jamie has achieved, but nobody ever talks about what he did around the environment. He was great for giving it his all, and helping the guys around him to be better".
O'Callaghan cites Heaslip's ferocious attitude in training as the source of this strength.
His training was always top end. He came in and he wasn’t just happy with the standard he found around him. He pushed it out a bit, and guys like that are valued. Every session, he was competitive. I can safely say that he never wasted a session.
Jamie came in and he knew he was a winner. The rest of us were hoping we could be.
People might think that he came across as brash or arrogant, but that was him. It has led to the different type of Irish player we have now; the player who expects to win. The dressing room before him was hoping to win, and wanted to win, whereas he came in and said, ‘we’re going to win’.
Training with him, and what he was able to get through was incredible. But he had a mental edge in terms of how far he could push himself and a non-Irish mindset of backing himself. The rest of us say, ‘we’ll go out and give it a lash’, whereas he said, ‘No, I’m fucking well good enough’.
He was the changing of the guard. I feel he hasn’t been getting enough credit.
While O'Callaghan believes that the depth of the Irish back-row is such that it can absorb the loss of Heaslip ahead of the next World Cup, he cites a line from Heaslip's farewell statement to capture his legacy, and one of the reasons why we have the depth to cope with such a loss.
Ye might think it’s generic bollocks when players say they want to leave the jersey in a better place, but he raised the standards and they’ve become the norm.
Everyone who comes in now has to think like that. I definitely think that he was a game-changer in terms of what he did physically and mentally. He pushed it on fitness-wise, and he gave it a mental edge, too.
It’s an un-Irish thing to say, to back yourself, but he did so because he could produce the goods.
Jamie is one of the guys who has changed Irish Rugby for good.
Donncha O'Calllaghan was speaking to Balls to promote The Clubhouse, which is broadcast on TV3 every Thursday at 10pm.