Fitzgerald deal reaches impasse

 

LUKE FITZGERALD is on the verge of leaving Leinster. The Irish Times understands the IRFU contract offered to Fitzgerald a number of months ago has been withdrawn, leaving negotiations at an impasse.

Despite being outside the current Ireland squad, the 24-year-old was offered a new centrally-contracted deal that is a 30 per cent reduction on his current salary. That is believed to be somewhere in the region of a drop from €280,000 to €200,000 to re-sign for another two years.

Fitzgerald’s agent, Fintan Drury, chairman of Platinum One, who has been negotiating with the union on his behalf, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The Leinster, Ireland and 2009 Lions Test winger-cum-centre-cum-fullback is now faced with a number of overseas options.

London Irish, where Munster scrumhalf Tomás O’Leary signed a contract last week, have been mentioned but there is also interest from French clubs.

Asked about the process yesterday, Leinster team manager Guy Easterby said: “Everyone is working hard to get it over the line. Luke wants to stay and the IRFU want him to stay so sometimes going through these negotiations take a little bit longer. It is just one of the ones that is taking its time.”

When asked if it was becoming a worry, Easterby replied: “You would obviously be worried because you want Luke to be here, put his name in the succession planning for the next couple of years and pencil him in.

“Again, that is the way the business is. That is going to happen from time to time with certain contracts. Keep working hard on it and hope it comes down in our favour.”

Gordon D’Arcy has signed a new contract that will keep the 32-year-old in Dublin.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt recently stated he was “quietly confidant” the negotiations between Drury, Fitzgerald and the Union – primarily the director of human resources Maurice Dowling (Leinster are not involved in the process), would be sorted out.

“The longer it goes the more difficult it is for Luke to do planning and the more difficult it is for us to do planning because he is an important part of our future,” said Schmidt. “The IRFU have managed to sign most of the Irish squad players they wanted to keep. I know Luke is one of those. I certainly hope something can be brokered.”

Fitzgerald, if selected, will become the 18th member of Leinster’s 100-cap club in Thomond Park on Saturday. However, the past 18 months have been difficult for the former Blackrock College schoolboy, capped 23 times for Ireland since his debut in 2006.

Having returned from a serious knee injury, Declan Kidney picked him at fullback in the 2011 Six Nations, as Rob Kearney and Geordan Murphy were both unavailable. That experiment failed with Kidney dropping him from the starting XV before selecting Fergus McFadden and Felix Jones ahead of him in the World Cup squad.

Fitzgerald immediately returned to provincial colours, where Schmidt employed him at inside centre when D’Arcy and McFadden were in New Zealand. On their return he played mainly on the left wing and was playing well again until a neck problem in December scuppered any chances of an international recall.

Meanwhile, Leinster have re-signed Ian Madigan for two more years after a string of impressive performances this season. Madigan’s prolific try-scoring form at outhalf looks set to ensure last summer’s Kiwi signing, Mat Berquist, will be moving on, with Biarritz a potential destination.

Schmidt is also seeking a longer term secondrow option to replace Steven Sykes, as Brad Thorn returns to Japan in June.