Heaslip now a master captain who has learned leadership well


FRENCH NOTES:The Leinster number 8 has benefited from strong role models

One approach to skills learning is to provide a player with a perfect example, then have the athlete copy the action. Repetition is the mother of all learning.

The skill is repeated until “muscle memory” makes the action automatic. Like breathing, the trained athlete performs the skill without thinking. Leadership is a skill that can be learnt in exactly the same way. Generations of Irish rugby captains have been leadership role models to the next generation. Willie John McBride, Fergus Slattery, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Mick Galway, Keith Wood, Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and now Jamie Heaslip, is a lineage of captaincy that is equal to the best in the world.

Research from Australian Rules found that many highly successful AFL players have significant male role models in their teenage years. That does not mean that the male role model were great sportsmen, it meant that the role model gave them encouragement to peruse their dream. They provided leadership. Sport is a mirror for life and the young always mimic their role models.

While our parents and grandparents are the first and most important leaders in our world, the workplace is also an environment where experienced colleagues will influence the inexperienced.

A major influence in my life was one of my first bosses. Brother Joseph McMahon was the headmaster of Sydney’s leading rugby school, St Joseph’s College.

I had just returned from a year playing rugby in Wales and travelling across Europe and America. I was 24 and stony broke. With the last of my money I had bought a 1964 General Motors Holden. It was hand painted with blue pool paint and had cost me $300. Looking back, I was ripped off.

A friend had recommended me for a position at the school. As I drove into the school for my interview the rear axle of the Holden broke. I entered the headmaster’s office with my hands covered in grease and more than a little pissed off. Later, as I walked to the bus stop, I thought “what a waste of time that has been.”

I got the job. Joe lumbered me with more responsibility than I could have imagined. He encouraged leadership within me that I did not know I had.

Fours years later, despite enjoying my time in education, I had decided that I needed to challenge myself in other areas. I was extremely reluctant to tell Joe I was leaving after all the faith he had placed in me. I should have known better. Not only did he encouraged me to chase my ambitions, he gave me the confidence to take the risks required to achieve them.

I have told him this to his face but I will say it again here, I would not have had the life I have had without his influence. Like the apprentice learning from his tradesmen, working beside a quality leader I had learnt leadership skills.

When I first met Jamie Heaslip he was a teenager. In 2003 Willie Anderson and Bret Igoe were telling me about this kid in our fledgling Leinster Academy. Niall Breslin was also in the group and still playing rugby between gigs, but Jamie was the star.

I have watched with great interest as Jamie has matured over the seasons. I have said before in this column that Jamie was a future Ireland and Lions captain. In the years to come he will hold the Irish captaincy for some time. He won’t captain the Lions to Australia but he has a very strong chance to captain the next tour to New Zealand.

Three years ago Shane Horgan organised me to share a few pints with some former Leinster players plus Rob Kearney, Seán O’Brien and Jamie. Not only were they polite and respectful, as “Shag” provided them with a long and detailed list of his former coach’s many failings, but the character of these young men shone like a beacon. I walked away uplifted and confident that the future of Leinster and Irish rugby was in good hands.

Jamie is confident and intelligent. He has a strong relationship with his father who is an Army colonel. His environment is in accord with the AFL’s research. His workplace leadership role models have been Leo Cullen, Paul and Brian. He has served his apprenticeship learning from the best of tradesmen.

Yet Jamie still has much to learn. His sin binning against South Africa was costly to the team. A few years ago he was also sent off against New Zealand for kneeing Richie McCaw in the head.

Yet inside these failings is what I like about Jamie’s leadership. He does not take crap from any one. I am not condoning kneeing McCaw in the head. The action was dangerous and his sending off cost Ireland the game, but I love his attitude. On the rugby field, he rightly bows to no man. He is prepared to give his all for the jersey.

He is a winner. With the role models who have gone before him, how could I have expected anything else?

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.