Years of sweat, sacrifice and reinvention go into Henry's overnight success at Ravenhill
Things are going well with Ulster and the flanker sees good times ahead with Ireland too, writes GERRY THORNLEY,Rugby Correspondent
For all the young tyros breaking through, there are also the Chris Henrys, Mike McCarthys and Donnacha Ryans. Late developers who are triumphant proof that if at first you don’t succeed, you just keep trying. At 28, Henry’s time has come.
Having re-invented himself two seasons ago as an openside flanker to become a vital cog in the Ulster machine, Henry was an ever-present in their march to last season’s Heineken Cup final and their Player of the Year. He also won his third and fourth caps back-to-back in the November Tests.
Like others of his ilk, he probably appreciates it all the more now. “I think like every professional rugby player, you are impatient. I’ve known Donnacha Ryan for a number of years and he’s a great example of it. We’ve played so many Irish A games together, and even plugging in the Ulster and Munster A teams, and it has been very frustrating at times but well the worth wait. Absolutely.”
Through it all, though he never doubted he would be a professional rugby player, there were times when he wondered if it would be with Ulster. “I was nearly away two or three years in a row. But because you had to work longer and harder for it I think that makes you less complacent, especially at the moment. The competition in this side is fairly fierce.”
For two years in succession, Henry seriously considered adding to the ex-Ulster conclave at the Exeter Chiefs but David Humphreys, especially, and Rory Best persuaded him to stay.
When injuries mounted again in 2008-09, Matt Williams gave him his chance. His debut came in the home Heineken Cup match against Harlequins.
“I remember being incredibly nervous. Nick Easter was their eight, and he was playing for England at the time. It was a horrible night, the game went so fast and I had to go off with a shoulder injury but we won and I was reasonably happy with how things went for me.”
In the last three and a bit seasons, he has played 80 times, all but nine starting, as Ulster ended a run of 12 pool exits to become Euro contenders.
“For the guys who have been here from the beginning, when times were tough, and now things are going well, I think it means more to them. There were real dark times up here, big time, when Matt left and Steve Williams came in.
“Rory got injured and Brian gave me the opportunity to captain the side and I completely felt out of my depth then. You were dealing with a team that weren’t winning and had a lot of big personalities still. It was daunting, but I definitely think I learned more in those hard years than I have in the last couple of years.”