Fitzgerald left in limbo as IRFU break off talks with agent over new contract
LUKE FITZGERALD's future within Irish rugby remains shrouded in doubt after Leinster yesterday revealed that the IRFU have pulled out of contract negotiations with their injured winger.
His representatives are now in direct negotiations with the province who have made an offer that is currently on the table, unsigned. He becomes a free agent on June 30, but his situation is complicated by the news that he is unlikely to play again in 2012 after undergoing surgery on his neck.
The union's snub is the latest sign of a dramatic fall from grace for the 24-year-old who was capped by the Lions less than three years ago on the back of his performances in Ireland's Grand Slam season.
Since then, he has suffered injuries and a loss of form that saw him left out of last year's World Cup.
The union handle contract talks with international players on centralised contracts and they were in discussions with Fitzgerald's agents at Platinum One until a number of weeks ago. However, they withdrew after the winger's operation and now it is his club who are vying to keep him in Ireland.
The former Blackrock College prodigy stated that he would be open to a move abroad if the right offer came his way earlier this year and was thought to have offers from French and English clubs, who are now likely to be put off by the long duration of rehabilitation he faces.
Fitzgerald was already facing a cut of around €80,000 on his estimated €280,000 salary when dealing with the union directly and it remains unclear whether he would have to take a further cut to stay with Leinster on a non-international contract.
Negotiations between the player and the union stalled initially in March when details of the pay cut on the proposed two-year deal emerged.
Leinster manager Guy Easterby yesterday confirmed that an offer has been made by Leinster, but that the player had yet to sign.
When asked if he was "confident" of retaining Fitzgerald's services, the former international scrum-half demurred, saying: "We have put an offer out and are certainly very hopeful."
The winger has had a difficult time since suffering a serious knee injury against Australia during the November internationals in 2009, which kept him out for the rest of that season.
On his return, he was used at fullback in the following Six Nations and appeared to lose his confidence and form and was dropped for the win over England at Lansdowne Road.
Although Fitzgerald played in Leinster's subsequent Heineken Cup success, he failed to impress Ireland coach Declan Kidney in the World Cup warm-up games and was left out of the Irish squad for the tournament. The Dubliner responded to that omission well and was in scintillating form for the province last season until he suffered a mysterious neck injury against Ulster on St Stephen's Day. Although he returned for a number of matches in March and April, the injury ended his season and he was forced to go under the knife.
Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson maintained that the province want to keep their man.
"Luke's been with us since he was 18. He's 24 now and we would hope that he'd be with us for a lot longer. He has been a fantastic player and will be a fantastic player, and he's very, very popular with the crowd," he said.
"We're acutely aware of that, we want to make sure that we can nurse him through this injury, get him back on the pitch and get him back playing for Leinster -- and Ireland, I suppose -- in early 2013.
"He has a 26-to-32-week rehab period and we have a duty of care to make sure that goes right, and, hopefully, he'll be working with us under our tutelage so that he can get back on the pitch ready for action."
Dawson, however, was not willing to divulge the duration of the deal that Fitzgerald and his representatives are considering.
"We don't discuss the details of contracts with anybody. We're in discussions with his agent Fintan Drury, and I'd be disappointed if it's not sorted out sooner rather than later," he added.
Meanwhile, Dawson confirmed that Leinster are in the market for a second- row, but have been finding it difficult to lure a southern hemisphere player of sufficient quality for next season.