JJ Hanrahan's decision to join the Northampton Saints from next season cast a pall over what had previously been an upbeat, good news day for Munster with the confirmation that Ian Keatley, Cian Bohane, Shane Buckley and Jack O'Donoghue had each signed contract extensions.
The 22-year-old Kerry-born outhalf had been linked with the English Aviva Premiership club, a story that emerged through The Irish Times on December 10th and one to which Munster coach Anthony Foley responded unequivocally in articulating a desire to keep the player at the province.
He explained that Munster had nursed Hanrahan through a long-standing injury that meant the player started the season a month later than most other players and as a result curtailed his game-time.
Negotiations continued apace between player and his two suitors; Munster dangled a three-year contract extension while the Saints offered a deal of unspecified length, believed to be worth €190,000 a season.
It would be wrong to suggest that the decision was primarily money-orientated. Hanrahan, talented and ambitious, made arguably the braver decision to move in pursuit of regular first-team rugby. He'll compete with an in-form Stephen Myler, who last month re-signed with the Saints, while at the same time moving to a new town, culture and environment.
Munster supporters will be distraught at losing a gifted outhalf-cum-inside centre and occasional fullback, a player who was previously voted Young Player of the Year at the province and landed the Golden Boot at the 2014 Pro12 awards, having in 2012 been shortlisted for World Under-20 Players of the Year, while helping Ireland to fifth place in the tournament.
Hanrahan said: “As difficult as it is to leave I believe it is the right step to take for my future progression. Growing up, Munster was all I knew and I will certainly miss it. I am very fortunate to have represented this club and team but I need to do what is best for me and avail of the next opportunity.
“I’m excited by the challenge that awaits me at Northampton Saints and was hugely impressed by the set-up at Franklin’s Gardens. Like Munster, Northampton is a club that has a proud history, great structures and a passionate local supporter base. I am really looking forward to testing myself in a new environment.
“I have had nothing but positive experiences at Munster. It is my home club and running out in the red jersey has been and remains a great privilege. The coaching staff have been brilliant with me.”
Saints’ director of rugby Jim Mallinder fully appreciates the calibre of the player he’s signed. “He’s a very good, exciting signing for us. I think he can be an outstanding player long-term and clearly, if you look at his history, he’s already got a very good kicking record, so that’s a real strength.
“He has a really nice attacking game,” added Mallinder.
“The other thing is his development, he’s looked at the side, he’s looked at the players we’ve have and how we develop them and also working with the coaches, someone like Alex King; he can develop into a really good player.”
Munster’s chief executive Gareth Fitzgerald was gracious: “In confirming the positive news about player contracts we are extremely disappointed to announce that we will lose the services of a home-grown talent such as JJ. We understand his reasons for leaving at the end of the season and appreciate the opportunity available to him. We have done everything possible in looking to retain such a skilful player and offered a highly competitive package in the process but unfortunately the decision is out of our hands.
“We would like to wish JJ all the best; he is a talented player with a very bright future.”
Keatley has signed a two-year extension, backrow forward Buckley a one-year extension to his development contract, centre Bohane re-signed on a one-year development contract that will be upgraded to a senior one at the start of the 2016-2017 season, while O’Donoghue will stay at Munster for at least a further three years, the last two of which will be at senior contract level.