Jackman is forced to retire


IT WASN’T so long ago that Leinster shifted their thinking or at least emphasised a different part of their provincial character. In the match-day programmes at the RDS they took a page to ask which players were linked to a jumbled list of provinces.

Through that campaign people came to know Seán O’Brien Shane Horgan, Leo Cullen and Rob Kearney were just as country as they were funky. Leinster saw its future in a broader county base.

The provenance of Bernard Jackman was the player few people got wrong. His accent and attitude sketched the straight-talking Carlow hooker as a player of no pretensions. That was the way he played too. Throughout that Leinster campaign Jackman was one of the prominent evangelicals.

In his parting shots yesterday, the 34-year-old faced his forced retirement with traditional pragmatic grace and directness. His regret was stated, his disappointment clear but there has always been another aspect to the player, always a plan B even if it did have to be implemented earlier than he would have liked.

“It wasn’t really my decision, to be honest. I failed a medical a couple of months ago,” he said yesterday. “Id love to continue to play. Unfortunately my body isn’t up to it.

“The main problem was my knees. The year we won Heineken Cup I had both of them scoped and for some reason I never really recovered no matter what treatment I had. I was going from match to match without being able to train.

“Last season fine, I coped. But this season I was getting less and less game time and was getting more unfit. I always thought the first thing that would happen was, mentally I wouldn’t enjoy it anymore, or, that I’d lose the heart to compete and to play. I’m 34; how many more years I would have had I can’t say. It just would have been nice to decide yourself.”

Last season Jackman was involved with Clontarf RC. Before that time spent with Newbridge RFC, Tullow RFC and Coolmine RFC cultivated his coaching personality. Still, he didn’t want to let go of a team that helped him to nine Irish caps. Reality bit when his contract finished this season and he was required to do a medical for an extension.

“I hadn’t had much game time going into February and I got a coupe of starts because Fogs (John Fogarty) was injured and I thought ‘jeez I can still play’,” he explained. “But after those three games I got worse. I’m just not able to do it anymore.

“I’d been a bit of a journeyman in terms of Connacht and Sale and a year without a contract. Then with my first three years with Leinster we underachieved. I’ve just seen an unbelievable change in the Leinster culture and when you’re in a good team like that and you struggled on the outside for a time, you want to stay as long as you can.

“I was here the year of Cheik’s arrival. It’s all changed off the field. We have quality guys every where. We have changed in terms of our attitude. We’re much more consistent. We’re much more hard nosed and that’s all the way through down to the academy. You see when a young team went to Glasgow there they got stuck in for 80 minutes, whereas, before our first 15 might not have done that.”

The crowd used to chant “De dah, de dah, de dah, de dah, Jackman!” like the theme in the old Batman TV series. Even comic book heroes move on and there will be more of him in Clontarf next season, where he takes up the main coaching role.

“Something I’m looking forward to,” he says. “When I started coaching junior clubs I always looked at it in terms of post-playing. I learned from those fellas. As a professional rugby player you’re so cushioned. Away from reality.

“Places like Newbridge and Tullow guys were tearing back from work on building sites or whatever for no reward. I tried to bring that to my game. Go out and just play on a Saturday. Forget money. Forget contracts. Just play on a Saturday for what it is, a game of rugby.”

Therein could be the bones of one of his first team talks.