Imagine Johnny Sexton on a park bench doing sudoku, his son beside him and reading dad’s autobiography.
Or Jacob Stockdale with his Ford Mustang. Or maybe Conor Murray on the beach in Derrynane where he spent so many summer holidays as a child.
Well, imagine no longer. These moments of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup squad and the staff behind them have been creatively brought to life by the Inpho agency and photographers Billy Stickland and Dan Sheridan.
It’s a special photo essay that seeks to present a more rounded glimpse into the lives of people so often defined by their jobs.
The idea rummaged around inside Stickland’s and Sheridan’s heads for the best part of a decade. It was a project they aimed to complete in time for the 2011 World Cup, and again in 2015, but time conspired against them on both occasions.
This time they gave themselves a year to get it done.
“We knew it would be difficult with so many people but we had this concept that we would photograph the players in some situation that was important to them,” Stickland explains.
“So we went to Joe (Schmidt) first. He is the man and he really liked the idea and there was a sense that this could generate a lot of goodwill for the team and a lot of positivity. We went to the players’ senior group then and put the whole thing to them and they all thought it was a great idea.”
The idea was one thing - its execution another entirely.
Corralling all this ambition into reality involved an enormous undertaking for two men whose daily lives were already a blur of sporting images. It meant squeezing assignments into windows that were already paper-thin.
The idea was to shoot all 31 players for the World Cup squad and the management and staff. Almost 50 individual assignments, once all possible bases were covered.
And that’s before you even begin to think of a concept for each one.
“The thing was for them to come back to us with an idea of something that was really important to them,” says Stickland.
“It could be their parents, their children, their girlfriend or their dog. It could have been a coach who was important to them in rugby.
“All those sort of concepts. At the end of the day, not many of them would have come back with an idea based on maybe winning a senior medal at St Munchin’s or whatever because they don’t really have the time to be sitting around thinking of concepts.
“Some of them did come back with ideas and a lot were to do with parents or girlfriends, some went along with suggestions we had, so it was a combination of what they came up with and what we came up with because we didn’t want every photo to be a happy family snap.”
Even that formulaic concept produced intriguing results.
One family shot involved each person holding a instrument to portray their collective love of music. Another resulted in a group pose in Daft Punk look, complete with identity-disguising helmets. Others were less offbeat but more affecting and none more so than Schmidt’s with his son, Luke.
“The very fact that he was photographed with his son Luke was a breakthrough for us and a reflection of how much he trusts us,” said Stickland.
“His son has epilepsy, quite severe epilepsy, and he is never really photographed or whatever so I was interested in doing that because it would show his human side. He said that was fine so that was what we did.”
Not everything has gone smoothly. Stickland’s car was towed away just 15 minutes before he was due to drive to Sexton’s house for the shoot while the decision to bring the squad announcement forward by six days this week left them with one of the 31 players still to capture before the flight to Japan.
The last in a litany of hurdles. It’s been worth it.