Friday 30 September 2016

Robbie Henshaw decision a stake in the heart

Michael McCarthy

Published 17/02/2016 | 02:30

Robbie Henshaw’s decision to leave Connacht is a hammer blow for the western province. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile.
Robbie Henshaw’s decision to leave Connacht is a hammer blow for the western province. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile.

Connacht is Irish professional rugby's original sin. When the IRFU set up the provincial system as the way forward for professional rugby in Ireland over 20 years ago, the western province were immediately out in the cold.

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From the very start, it was decided this would be a 'three-and-a-half-team' situation. They weren't considered for one of the Irish places in the inaugural Heineken Cup. Connacht was a development province with only half the funding of Munster, Ulster and Leinster. In 2003, Irish Rugby's decision-makers actually tried to shut down the team, cutting off rugby from an entire province of the country.

Since that decision was reversed, a more viable effort has been made to actually give assistance to the traditional poor relation of Irish rugby. In return, the local support in Galway and beyond has increased massively. Even still, it was only in 2014 that the IRFU put Connacht on any kind of an equal footing with the country's other teams.

In response, Connacht have come on leaps and bounds and now, less than two years later, sit top of the Guinness Pro12, while the other Irish teams have embarrassed themselves all season.

And now, their star player is out to door to Leinster.

Superstar

Robbie Henshaw was the key to everything. Here, finally, was a true superstar who has risen through the ranks. He was the future of Irish rugby and he was of Connacht, from Connacht.

His loss is about so much more than what he offers on the field of play. It's a symbolic loss. At a time when the fan base is growing and rugby becomes more and more a part of the sports culture of Galway and the rest of the province, the rug has been pulled out from under them.

What does it say to fans of the team when, just as they've finally built something, and just as the big bad wolves in the capital are struggling for the first time in years, you lose your saviour to them. How can they ever compete? What's the point?

It's a sad reality of modern, professional sport. We talked a lot in the office on Monday about Henshaw's right to leave and do what is best for him. That's undeniable. Whether that means Connacht or Leinster is debateable, but it's right that it's his choice. What is undeniable is that this move is a sad one for Irish rugby. Leinster, with all of their natural advantages, don't need the pick of the nation.

We only have four professional teams. In 2003, we kept it as four. In 2014, this was reinforced. Let's have four teams. We shouldn't be in a position where a player is too good for one of them.

Irish Independent

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