The IRFU may have lost Jonathan Sexton to France but the union could avoid similar losses in the months and years to come by adopting a more proactive approach to contract negotiations, according to Omar Hassanein.
The CEO of the Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA), Hassanein said yesterday there has been “robust” discussions about the manner in which the Irish union has conducted such matters in light of Sexton’s decision to spurn a new contract here.
Timing, as much as money, is at the heart of the issue with Irish players unhappy that matters of such import are not dealt with earlier in the season and Hassanein suggested the IRFU should be taking an even longer term view.
“Jonny has expressed that view a number of times to me,” said the Australian at the latest launch of Hibernia College’s sports scholarships, “that he would prefer to do his negotiation in the off-season, as have a number of other players like Rob [Kearney], etc.
“It’s not an ideal time, that goes without saying. Guys don’t want this clouding their minds during Heineken Cup and Six Nations. The IRFU would benefit also from perhaps recognising that players are doing very well and perhaps looking to advance contracts ahead of time.
“To my mind that would be a smart way of doing it and saying, ‘look, we think you’re doing a great job and we want to throw you a bone a little bit earlier’. But look, that’s up to them how they manage it.”
Sexton’s loss will be felt on and off the pitch. Though his move to the continent shouldn’t affect his membership of the Irish players body, it will necessitate him stepping down as chairman, a role he assumed only last September.
The Ireland out-half kept Hassanein abreast of his decision before news of his proposed move broke publicly and it was put to Hassanein that the revelation, while a blow for Leinster and Ireland, will only broaden the market for his fellow players.
“Well, an active market is good for anyone who is in the market place, except for those who are dealing with the salaries. It does open things up. The IRFU would recognise it’s not in their interest to have too many going abroad, even if they do retain them for international duty.
“So yeah, I think good players make decisions. They generally don’t consider money as the sole factor. I know a couple of guys out of contract now who have spoken to me about their expectations and they aren’t necessarily for the IRFU to match every offer that’s out there.
“But if the player is happy with the overall package of what he has — considering his personal life, his studies, his family and everything else that goes with it — that’s the bigger issue the players have to consider.”
Sexton’s move will go a long way to securing his financial future long after he hangs up his boots but the vast majority – if not all – of today’s professional rugby players will still need to generate an income post-rugby.
Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Michael Swift were among the athletes present in Dublin yesterday to avail of Hibernia College’s scholarship scheme with the third of that particular trio returning to the books after a gap of 14 years. It is estimated that over 70 Irish players have retired or switched clubs this last two years while 23 have been forced from the game by injury in the last three and Hassanein stressed the importance of preparing for that rainy day.
“It’s not easy and we try to assist every player we can, not just during their playing career but in the transitional phase. We’re in the process of launching a past professional alumni so we’re formalising that assistance we give to the player.
“Someone like Alan Quinlan has landed on his feet but he’s still doing a number of patchy roles so he’s had to scrap away to find a full-time income. There’s only a select few like Brian [O’Driscoll] and Paul [O’Connell] who can use their profile. Beyond that the guys are really starting from scratch.”
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