Kearney: Sexton didn't want to leave and his transfer could open the floodgates
Jonathan Sexton didn’t want to leave Dublin. Nor did he want to go to France. Yesterday Ireland team-mate Rob Kearney told a tale of IRFU pragmatism scrummaging down with a 27-year-old player about to get married and his need for financial security.
The answer to the €750,000 question was that both sides wished to find a meeting point where they could shake hands.
There was some desperation on Sexton’s side and possibly too within the IRFU. But in this modern tale of professional rugby, the market, as it often does, ruled and willingness on both sides was the casualty.
“Myself and Jonny have played a long time now,” explained Kearney. “We started off about 14, 15-years-old, two young schoolboys. So we’ve been very close and we have been talking about it. He was upset by the whole thing.
“There’s no point in lying about it. He was upset.
“I think Jonny will tell you that he probably wanted to stay. So it’s unfortunate that . . . Whatever way the negotiations went on I think he probably wanted to agree and stay and play his rugby in Ireland.
“But you can’t always get what you want.
“He’s getting married this summer, a lovely girl, so it’s a new start in life for him and I think he’s excited by that and I think he understands he has to jump head first into it.
“So, yeah, that’s professional sport, that’s what happens. I think we’ve been lucky throughout the years. It’s only now it has happened. It will test the waters.”
The peripheral damage is that behind the distraction is Declan Kidney’s plan for Ireland’s opening game against Wales and to underplay that devalues the intensity of focus that goes into preparation for a Test match.
It is also compounded by Kearney’s current position of being deep in negotiations over his own contract.
Mick Kearney, the Ireland team manager said he and Declan Kidney would be meeting with the National Team Review Group, a sub-committee of the IRFU, to discuss the poor timing of players’ contract negotiations, which this year have appeared as the perfect storm.
“You never like using the word selfish but you have to look out for yourself most of the time,” added the Ireland fullback. “You have got to think, make decisions that are best for you. That might not always mean financially. Although you do have to make decisions based on what you feel will be the best for you down the line. I think guys will always be making decisions based on that.
“I was always very keen to get it (contract) sorted before the competition. It is sort of a difficult place to be in when you are trying to determine your future and play the biggest competition of the year. It’s probably not ideal. They (the talks) always fall around this time.
Make it better
“You have to make it better. Players don’t really want to get involved in these discussions during the Six Nations, when they shouldn’t really be happening. I think how players feel, their state of mind going on to the field has to be their priority. But it has been like that for years. I can’t see it changing a huge amount for the future.”
Chaired by Martin O’Sullivan and with Tom Grace, Pat Whelan, Eddie Wigglesworth and Philip Browne sitting in, the review group meets regularly with the manager and the coach. They hold discussions every week of the Six Nations Championship and also during the November international series and will hold a meeting this week where the issue of player contracts will be raised.
“Myself and Declan will be sitting down with them this week,” said manager Kearney. “It is one thing we will bring up. It is really important that players go into a Six Nations prepared in the best possible manner, mentally, physically, emotionally.
“If there is some bit of a drag on them emotionally in terms of a contract that is something that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“As Rob says, going in the week before your major tournament for the year with a worry hanging over your contract, it is not ideal and it is certainly something that needs to be worked on in the future.”
Kearney’s apparent insecurity is no different from that of any other player. Having played just two and a half matches since his back injury, the shop window of the Six Nations is an important tool and while it can cut both ways, he’s sensitive to the need to demonstrate that he is back to where he once was as one of the best fullbacks in world rugby.
Opportunity for change is available to him. But Leinster is in his bones. Sexton’s departure was more a familial wrench than a business arrangement and Kearney feels a similar loyalty. In one sense that is a stunning IRFU success.
“Of course, you think about it,” he said of leaving. “The last time there was options. If I went looking this time I’m sure there would be options.
“But when you are with a club . . . you’ve grown up there . . . you enjoy playing with your colleagues and friends. You’re competitive and you are winning trophies in Europe, it’s difficult to justify why you would want to leave.
“So yeah, the thought has always been there but I’ve never really had any reason for wanting to leave.”