Heineken Cup doubts as big a factor as money in Irish players going to France
‘If I was 28 and there was a prospect of no European rugby, I’d be off like a shot’
Johnny Sexton’s move to Racing Metro was a ’no-brainer’ for Alan Quinlan: “I know if I was 27 or 28 and there was interest coming from France where the money is going to be good, then I’d have to seriously think about it”. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
In all the talk about the future of the Heineken Cup, you haven’t heard a whole lot from the players. Don’t take that to mean everybody will just be getting their head down and not paying the situation any attention. You can be guaranteed it’s a big topic of conversation and that players will be looking around them to see what’s what at all times.
Whatever way it all turns out, the public will hope to still have a European rugby tournament of some kind to watch. So while the man in the street will have his opinion one way or the other on what should happen, the reality is it won’t really affect him all that much. Players can’t afford to look at it that way.
This is your livelihood, plain and simple. So far in the professional era, the Heineken Cup has been the competition that has driven careers – especially for Irish players. On top of the enjoyment and fulfilment that comes with doing well in a world-class competition, it has provided the exposure and profile that has helped them improve their financial situation.
Do well in the Heineken Cup and you’re on the TV, you’re drawing envious looks from clubs all over the continent. It enhances your profile and puts you out there as a player.
It still comes down to you to perform, to be the best you can be. But when you’re on the biggest stage, your earning ability increases. Simple as that.
If you do well against the best teams, people notice. It shows up in win bonuses, it shows up in endorsements, it shows up in expressions of interest from outside clubs.
The Heineken Cup has been that platform all the way through. Now that it’s in danger, there’s uncertainty. Players will automatically re-evaluate where they are and where they’re going.
Money is not the main driver of a player’s career but we can’t pretend it’s irrelevant either. You want to win trophies, you want to be in a strong team that is going to compete, you want to make it to the highest level, you want to play for your country. None of that will ever change, regardless of what’s on offer or where the best contracts are.
But the cold reality is you owe it to yourself as a player to do the best thing for your career. If you’re lucky, you have around a decade to make it count. Plenty of fellas end up with less. The more you watch guys having to retire through injury, the more selfish you have to become. Every player is one bad knock away from having to find a new career.
This is why I would never for a single second hold it against any player if he left Ireland to play in France for better money.
It’s nothing to do with loyalty or anything like that. Rugby is a business at every level from the IRB down and it’s a business built on the back of players. Every last one of them owes it to himself to do as well out of it as he can.
In the past, players have said the right thing and done the right thing to make other people happy. It’s always been taboo to talk about money or to be seen to be someone who was agitating for a better deal or better endorsements. But we have to get past this idea that a player leaving for a better contract is in some way letting down the fans or the club or the media. That sort of thinking is just so far from reality.
Improve their working situation
Reality says that anyone in any walk of life that can improve their working situation will do just that. Reality also says that if a 26-year-old accountant or plumber or barman or whatever tries to get a pay rise and is told he’ll have to wait a year, he might be happy enough to because he knows he has 30 years of earning ahead of him. A 26-year-old rugby player can be confident of 10 more, at the very outside.