Heaslip retains Ireland captaincy
Declan Kidney has retained Jamie Heaslip as captain for the upcoming Six Nations Championship.
The Ireland coach named an extended squad of 39 players that will be spread out between the Six Nations opener against Wales on February 2, and the Wolfhounds squad to take on England Saxons.
Former captain Brian O'Driscoll has been included and will be hoping to take up a spot at outside centre for the first time since the 60-0 loss to New Zealand last June.
Kidney said: "I just felt that it was better to ask Jamie to stay on as captain with a view to allowing Brian to focus on his own game and get himself right.
"It was not an easy decision but I felt it was right."
Stephen Ferris' omission from the squad is a massive blow and may see Sean O'Brien shifted to blindside flanker, with Chris Henry keeping the open side flanker slot that he took up in the 46-24 win over Argentina in November.
Leinster loose forward Heaslip, who confessed that he learned about his first captaincy call in November whilst shopping at Tesco, says he is incredibly honoured to be asked to stay on in the role.
He said: "To lead your country is the ultimate in any sport. To get the opportunity again, considering what an inspirational leader Brian is, and the other players who could have been chosen to captain the team, is even more humbling."
O'Driscoll reveals that he talked through the decision with Kidney and, despite his reluctance to step away from "a big part of my career and life", is fully behind the decision to go with Heaslip.
He said: "I've always known that the Rugby World Cup in 2015 was most likely a bridge too far for me, so at some point a player, who will most likely be there for the tournament, needs to build that captaincy experience."
Kidney also conceded that Paul O'Connell, another former Ireland captain, was highly unlikely to feature in the Six Nations.
Ireland training squad:
Backs: I Boss (Leinster), D Cave (Ulster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster), C Gilroy (Ulster), R Henshaw (Connacht), P Jackson (Ulster), R Kearney (Leinster), I Madigan (Leinster), P Marshall (Ulster), F McFadden (Leinster), D McSharry (Connacht), C Murray (Munster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), R O'Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster).
Forwards: M Bent (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), S Cronin (Leinster), T Court (Ulster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (captain, Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), C Henry (Ulster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), M McCarthy (Connacht), S O'Brien (Leinster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Mahony (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), L Stevenson (Ulster), R Strauss (Leinster), D Toner (Leinster).