Billy Holland finding his feet in rugby 'afterlife'

'The only certainty in professional rugby is that it ends, it’s just a matter of when. So there’ll be lots of mixed feelings over the next period of time but I know I’m very happy and proud of what I did and I’m just looking forward to the afterlife, so to speak'
Billy Holland finding his feet in rugby 'afterlife'

Former Munster star Billy Holland cutting the ribbon at the opening of Aldi's new flagship store in Douglas, Cork along with Deputy Lord Mayor Mary Rose Desmond and Senator Jerry Buttimer. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

He has been retired not much more than a week, barely time to nail a hook in the wall let alone hang his boots on it, but Billy Holland has already felt the nagging sensation that comes of saying farewell to a life in rugby that consumed him since he was a kid.

Yet having marched to the schedule laid out for him by Munster Rugby since the first of the forward’s 247 games for the province back in 2007, the 35-year-old former lock has plenty of positives to focus on as he looks to the future and the many chapters to come.

There are exams to take, a new career to begin in the New Year and baby number three to welcome sometime in September. Yesterday in Cork he was even cutting the ribbon on a new Aldi store in Douglas.

Still, the realisation that there was no training on the agenda one day last week hit Holland unexpectedly.

“I always knew come October or November there’d be a pang and you’d really miss it but funnily enough last Tuesday morning I woke up and was thinking ‘oh’,” Holland said. “I was surprised by how I felt, it had happened so quickly, I felt quite bad about having retired immediately.

“But I’ve been focusing on the positive parts of it and how I’m going to enjoy myself, the summer holidays and just spend more time at home. I’ve spent between nine and 12 hours a week commuting up and down to Limerick and that in itself is an extra day in your back pocket to do as you wish.

“The only certainty in professional rugby is that it ends, it’s just a matter of when. So there’ll be lots of mixed feelings over the next period of time but I know I’m very happy and proud of what I did and I’m just looking forward to the afterlife, so to speak.

“You enter into this other realm of normal life where you can actually say to somebody that you can go to their wedding next November rather than saying ‘I’ll have to see if I get selected, I’ll tell you there on the Monday afternoon whether I can go to your wedding!

“You know, as a player you don’t really think about that, it’s probably your friends and families who suffer a little bit more in that regard. If your wife wants to do something they all know well enough at this stage that you’re about as unreliable as you can get.

“It’s one of the small sacrifices about professional rugby, that your time isn’t your own. I’ve had a weekly schedule emailed to me every Thursday or Friday for the last 17 years, that old me what am I doing on what day and at what time next week.

“So then you wake up on a Tuesday morning and ‘so, what am I going to do today? Cook the dinner and walk around the island 50 times.’ 

 “It’s an adjustment. Some people say it’s like being in the army, you get your schedule and you plan your schedule, your own extras and your recovery around that and your week is really regimented. That is a big change once you finish up.” 

Holland said he will take his time before plunging into the real world.

“We’re expecting baby number three in September so that’ll be exciting. We’re looking forward to that so I intend taking six months off and I am going into a role with EBS Bank in January. That’s a while away so I have a bit of time off and time to do a few QFA (Qualified Financial Adviser) exams and get myself prepared for that.

“But I’m determined to put the feet up and enjoy family life before I start into the next venture.” 

Holland has already expressed his belief that coaching in professional rugby is not for him and that following the globetrotting career path of former team-mate Ronan O’Gara would not suit his “home bird” sensibilities right now. 

A role with Cork Constitution, the club that nurtured his game alongside CBC Cork, may well figure on the horizon but not yet and he will definitely not take down those boots from the hook for a return to the All Ireland League.

He was, though, highly regarded as a mentor to Munster’s up and coming generation of forwards, including current Ireland U20 captain Alex Kendellen, who last week praised Holland’s willingness to offer advice. The Corkman remains willing to take their calls though he knows well enough to wait for them to make contact.

The same applies to his former comrades and Holland was quick to take himself out of the line of fire in the team WhatsApp groups, a seemingly trivial act but one carrying more meaning than he might have imagined.

“I removed myself. I didn't want to the ignominy of Peter O'Mahony removing me from a WhatsApp group. I would prefer to fall on my own sword!

“Isn't it amazing, you do all the leaving and you have all the goodbye speeches and it's actually just leaving a WhatsApp group, of what I would consider to be my friends, is actually quite a difficult thing to do.

“It's mad how something like that can be so impactful. But I suppose that's modern life, isn't it? But yeah, I did it before O'Mahony got to me!”

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