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Gerry Thornley: Rob Kearney deserving of some kind of send-off

Players departing and arriving at end of the season creates conundrums for provinces

Some guys get all the luck, or at any rate the perfect farewell. Brian O'Driscoll, obviously, signed off his Test career in the Aviva Stadium with that enormous banner and man-of-the-match award, to be followed by Ireland sealing the 2014 Six Nations in Paris a week later. He was so good he pretty much scripted it himself.

Even when O’Driscoll departed in the eighth minute of his very last match of all, Leinster’s Pro12 final win over Glasgow at the RDS two and a half months later, he was still able to join in the celebrations in front of his home crowd and was again serenaded with chants of “one more year”. Leave them wanting more!

Isa Nacewa was so good he got to do it twice. His first five-year spell at the club ended with him amongst the Leinster players celebrating a Pro12 final win over Ulster at the RDS, which was just a week after the province's Challenge Cup final win over Stade Francais. Chants of "I-sa, I-sa," reverberated around the RDS, having been instigated by Johnny Sexton – who himself was departing for Racing.

At the end of his second spell, of three seasons two years ago, akin to O’Driscoll, Nacewa only lasted 18 minutes of his farewell game, the Pro14 final win over Glasgow at the Aviva Stadium. Still, this came a fortnight after he sealed Leinster’s Champions Cup win over Racing in Bilbao with a couple of nerveless penalties. Now that’s how to do it.


Others also get to receive winning trophies in recognition of their service, even if they are not captains, but not all are so lucky. Some slip away more antic-climactically or, at any rate, in defeat, although there is at least some form of occasion and recognition from the crowd, ala Rory Best in the Kingspan Stadium and then the World Cup quarter-final in Japan.

Some, such as Seán O’Brien, get to accept the trophy while suited. Others who don’t even get to tog out are usually at least presented to an appreciative home support for one final round of applause.

Now though, unlike never before, some are set to slip away more quietly into the night, although were there to be no more matches played in Leinster's 2019-20 season, Rob Kearney is fairly sanguine about the prospect.

Even so, if ever a player deserved some kind of send-off or recognition it is Kearney, a four-time Champions Cup winner with the province as well as his many international achievements.

Kearney was of a mind to continue playing, but even finding alternative employers in the current climate looks difficult. Fergus McFadden is another who is both out of contract at the end of June and deserving of some recognition.

However, even if the Pro14 and Champions Cup campaigns were, somehow, to be resumed in July or August, technically they (and others) will be out of contract. Leinster would surely like to acknowledge their contributions in some formal way, but would they now be in a position financially to extend their contracts on a week-by-week or game-by-game basis?

Were the return to training date for Ulster's players to lag behind their counterparts in the other three provinces, that could provide another conundrum

The same applies, were the current season to finish up later in the summer, for other provinces, regions and clubs who have players are out of contract at the end of June.

On the other hand, players such as Ian Madigan and Alby Mathewson are due to join Ulster on July 1st. Presumably, newly-signed players such as they are not registered in the 2019-20 Pro14 or European competitions but exemptions would have to be permitted?

English Premiership rules decree, for example, that come July 1st players who have agreed to change clubs such as Kyle Sinckler is then a Bristol player and no longer with Harlequins.

Simply for reasons of player welfare, and the prospect of all clubs and provinces being faced with an inordinately demanding 12 months or so of rugby whenever that eventually materialises, they will be permitted to play all incoming new players.

As with moves within the Premiership (such as that of Sinckler) or Top 14, similarly the position becomes even more complicated regarding players who, as is apparently the case, are about to move between the provinces.

Presumably, if the 2019-20 season were to resume, there would be no point in them continuing to train with their existing province until the end of June if they are due to be with a new one come July 1st?

Nor, of course, would the complications end there if, as is being considered, the 2019-20 was resumed in Ireland with interpro derbies, not least as the Ulster squad operate under UK government and health guidelines and testing procedures from the other three provinces in the fight against this vicious coronavirus.

Ulster's players are currently in furlough, with their salaries being supplemented by the UK government. Of course this does not stop them training on their own any less than the players of Connacht, Leinster and Munster who are still under the direct employment of their provinces and the IRFU, who are availing of the Irish Government's wage subsidy scheme.

Considering that the players would need at least a four- to six-week window to ready themselves for matches, were the return to training date for Ulster’s players to lag behind their counterparts in the other three provinces, that could provide another conundrum. As if there aren’t enough already.