O’Sullivan said Heaslip was ‘too weak’ for international rugby

Leinster number eight honoured by Ireland Funds philanthropic group in Dublin

President of the Worldwide Ireland Funds, Kieran McLoughlin, presenter Joanne Cantwell, Ireland player Jamie Heaslip and  vice-president of The Ireland Funds Caitríona Fottrell at the Ireland Funds Rugby Lunch at the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

President of the Worldwide Ireland Funds, Kieran McLoughlin, presenter Joanne Cantwell, Ireland player Jamie Heaslip and vice-president of The Ireland Funds Caitríona Fottrell at the Ireland Funds Rugby Lunch at the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Ireland and Leinster player Jamie Heaslip has said the country’s Six Nations Grand Slam hopes are “still alive” after the last-gasp victory over France in Paris.

Heaslip joked that he had not managed to secure tickets for Saturday’s tie against Italy but hoped to be in the stands for the following games, particularly the potentially decisive encounter with England at Twickenham.

Injury has kept him off the pitch for 12 months – an absence that allows him break from tradition and comment, to some extent, on the nation’s prospects in the tournament.

“I think that that Grand Slam is still alive,” he said, although stopping short of any wild predictions.

One of his two teams will bring home some silverware by the end of the season, was about as far as he was willing to push it.

Heaslip, who has had a marquee career including two Lions tours and several European trophies, was being honoured at the 10th annual Ireland Funds Rugby Lunch.

The 42-year-old philanthropic organisation has raised $600 million (€490 million) to aid projects North and South of the Border.

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Heaslip was on hand not only to accept the honour, but to entertain the 350-strong room at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.

Everything was up for discussion, from his most and least favourite coaches, to the oxygen tent at his home.

He admitted, along with most of the country, to thinking Ireland’s Grand Slam chance had gone last weekend when a late French try appeared to seal the team’s fate.

“Where do we go from here?” he said, summarising his thoughts as Ireland drove forward in search of an unlikely victory secured by Johnny Sexton’s drop goal.

“It just shows the type of competitor that he is, the competitors that they all are,” Heaslip said, but added that nobody should get too carried away yet – Ireland did not score a try nor look like scoring one.

Special attention

He singled out former coach Eddie O’Sullivan for special attention when asked by RTÉ sports presenter Joanne Cantwell which of those he had worked under had favoured him the least.

“The last time I had a conversation with Eddie he said I was too small, too weak” for international rugby, he said.

“He also said to me that I would never play international rugby playing white boots and that is the reason why I pretty much wear white boots most of the time.”

Although he told O’Sullivan he did not agree with his evaluation, it was something that had “burned” in him over the last 12 years of his career, he admitted.

As for current Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, he expressed his deep admiration of a man who had made him a better player.

“He only sleeps about three or four hours a night, it’s a joke,” he said, joking that it was a common challenge among players to get him to talk about anything but rugby for as long as possible but usually maxing out at about six minutes.

As for the rumoured oxygen tent at his house, Heaslip shrugged: “It’s not quite a chamber. I have an altitude tent.” His wife, he explained, had banished him to the spare room to use it in pre-season – the large tent fits over his bed and, among multiple benefits, helps aid faster recovery from injury.

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