Life is short, so let's wish Sexton well on his adventure in Paris
What do Ollie Campbell, Jackie Kyle, David Humphries, Tony Ward and Paul Dean have in common? They were all great outhalves. Past tense. Their time, as a player, has gone and will never return.
Life as a rugby player, for these wonderful men and us all, is short. We can never take rugby or life for granted. It is finite. Enjoy every precious moment.
Life passes with incredible speed. This week my son turned 18. On his sixth birthday he ran onto Donnybrook as the Leinster mascot, holding Reggy Corrigan’s hand. Those years seem to have passed in the blink of an eye.
Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll, are the only players in that Leinster team that have not retired.
When you are a player the time is so magical that you never believe the days will end. The reality of not playing is beyond your full comprehension. You feel ten foot tall and bullet proof.
Using the word “love” to describe the relationship between a sportsmen and his sport is accurate. There is sacrifice, commitment, and dedication, the forsaking of all others and there is indescribable joy.
When rugby was amateur one of its greatest joys for players was travel. As a teenager I remember meeting the great Australian fullback, Roger Gould. His stories of living and playing in Argentina mesmerised me. The romance of packing your boots and gum shield and playing in exotic locations captivate my imagination.
Time of adventure
So when my time came, even though I was a very average player, I travelled and played with clubs across America and Europe. It was a time of adventure, fun and wonder for a boy from suburban Sydney.The hospitality, local customs and the people remain with me to this day.
One of my only regrets was not playing for a French club. I played in a sevens tournaments in Paris in the mid 1980s and was asked to return and play for the Paris University Club. That European summer I returned to Australia and never played for PUC. My father thought that at 24, even though I had finished university and held a degree, I was wasting my life. Looking back, it was the opposite. I was not earning much money but I had never been so alive.
If Matt Williams at 53 could give Matt Williams at 24 some advice, it would be to stay and live in Paris, dance with every girl, play in every rugby game, go on every tour and suck the carefree marrow out of life.
Then we were amateurs.
For leading Irish professional players the great joy of playing outside Ireland has been very difficult to achieve. There is an incredible loyalty from Irish players to their province and the national jersey.