Eoin Reddan did not get the finale his glittering career deserved but the veteran scrum-half at least bowed out on his own terms, eager to make his new life in business every bit as successful as the one he enjoyed in rugby.
Ireland lost the final Test with South Africa in Port Elizabeth but coming off the replacements bench for an 11-minute final hurrah at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the 35-year-old showed he still has what it takes to compete at the sport’s highest levels.
With all his usual industry, Reddan injected just the right urgency into Ireland’s play as the tourists chased the try that would close the gap on the Springboks to a point and give Paddy Jackson a shot at glory with the conversion. A sharp pass from the back of a ruck and a snipe down the blindside have been his stock-in-trade for years but there was always more and it showed with a lovely offload out the back door for Jack McGrath as Ireland laid siege to the Boks’ tryline.
It was not to be but Reddan will exit the stage of his own accord and enter the world of aircraft leasing this September with plenty to be proud of in a career that started in Crescent College and took the Limerick man from Munster to Connacht and on to European and domestic success at both Wasps and Leinster.
“I’m proud because I worked, excuse the expression, but I worked my bollocks off until today and that’s what makes me the happiest and hopefully I can do that again in what I do next,” said Reddan.
“It’s a tough call. I suppose the thing I’m going to do is for me, wouldn’t be for everybody but I suppose it’s a bit like when I started to play rugby. I’m motivated to do really well at it, it’s intriguing. I hope it’s like that when I do that. You never know.
“I suppose for me it’s an opportunity at the right time. I’m very conscious of the journey Leo (Cullen, Leinster head coach) is on and I really enjoyed working with him last year. I think he’s an incredible coach and an incredible guy and in some ways, I felt like I was letting him down a little. Not that he needed me or anything but it was quite unique having a friend coaching you and wanting you to do so well and not contributing to him next year is something that’s weighing on me a little bit. It all happened so late as well.
“That bit has been hard and I suppose that’s the bit I’ll miss — not being able to contribute.
“At the same time, being given this opportunity, I mightn’t have been able to contribute with that on the horizon or in the back of my head. I’m not sure I would have been able to commit to the team the way I would have wanted to.”
Reddan said he is “confident” that Ireland are heading in the right direction with some of the next generation of talent that has emerged on this tour.
“I’m very lucky it happened like that and I got these three weeks with the guys, some of whom I hadn’t known, some who turned out to be great friends. Even Ultan Dillane, who I didn’t know three weeks ago. A 35-year-old guy has a friend for life with a 20-year-old second row — bizarre!
“But it was just that kind of tour. It was brilliant. Look at the players we have now. A bit of bravery, a bit of dreaming maybe in the summer will do them all good if they aim high enough, there’s no stopping them.”
Despite speculation about Joe Schmidt’s future as head coach beyond the remaining year of his IRFU contract, Reddan said he believes his former Leinster boss is “utterly committed”.
“As far as I can see he cares more than ever about us as a group and as a team. That’s all I’ll say. Don’t have to argue for any of those coaches — probably some of the best coaches in the world, across all the functions they do so we’re quite lucky in that regard,” said Reddan.
“We’re developing quite a robust squad that can deal with injuries or dips in form. We’re going to have loads of guys ready to go so I think it’s positive. As far as I can see, he looked quite determined to bring them on to the next level.”
That Reddan will not be around to help shepherd them through is a regret to Schmidt, who said: “You know, you don’t get the fairytale ending, but what a hell of a story.
“A kid who left Munster to get more game time, went to Connacht as a 71-kilo whippet, has won trophies all over the place, is the consummate professional, commits to the team and the greater good well beyond himself. He’s a super fella. Aoife, Tom, Evey — they’re a super family. The environment in our team is a fairly tight-knit group so Redser will be a real loss for us.”
The sense of loss Reddan might be feeling had not quite sunk in on Saturday night as he spoke to journalists in an Ireland jersey for the last time, but it had been a memorable week, he admitted.
“Things seem to hit me a bit later. My brother Cian flew in from New York and surprised me, it was quite emotional. My dad was here last night as well, went for dinner last night, it was lovely, really enjoyed that.
“Normally things sink in with me a bit late so I was a little bit emotional today but it was business as usual for the week. Really, really wanted to try and win the game. Last 15 minutes I was trying to stay in every second, make sure every second counted and nearly got there. Would have been great but wasn’t to be.”
Still, there’s a first day in the real world to consider now. “September 5,” Reddan said of his start date at work. “Bottom rung, no clue what I’ll be doing. I told them I do!”
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