Rugby

Saturday 12 July 2014

Jonny will miss home cooking but he's earned French gravy

Billy Keane

Published 26/01/2013|05:00

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The IRFU didn't believe he was going to leave Leinster for Racing Metro. The papers didn't believe it either. Most of the big clubs in France believed the papers.

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You will read all sorts of spin. Figures, either real or imaginary, will be placed before you. Jonathan Sexton was looking for no more than the best-paid Irish player.

The IRFU have to balance the books. We all understand that. The world is upside down right now. Take the case of Leeds United, who spent all round them and went bust. It has happened all over the sporting world on many occasions.

I suppose I had better put this bit in. I'm his godfather and we are close.

He's as sound a young lad as you will ever meet. A home bird who is engaged to the lovely and smart Laura, his childhood sweetheart.

Their idea of a big holiday is to go down to Listowel to see his Granny Brenda for her steak, spuds and beans dinners. Laura and Jonathan love Granny Brenda and her gentle ways. She still runs her fashion shop and watches Jonathan's day-time games on a tiny TV hidden under the counter.

There might be a game of golf if he has time, or a walk on the beach in Ballybunion, but mostly he'll sit and watch rugby by the fire. It's study time. He spots weaknesses in defences and stores the information for the big days ahead.

The last time he was in Kerry, Jonathan took time out to call to see a young lad who had been very sick. It was surprise visit. The kid was wearing a Munster jersey. The young lad answered the bell.

Jonathan's first words were "get that jersey off ya."

The young lad was in total shock. The two boys clicked and we had a lovely afternoon. Jonathan will give out because I've told the story. But I think we need to know the sort of man he is and the quiet way he goes about his business.

He's no saint, mind. Jonathan has a fair old temper. There was the time he phoned to say he was joining Leinster. Of course, we were all hoping that Jonathan would sign for Munster.

I told him straight out that I would prefer to see him join a well-known criminal gang in the Limerick area. He quickly told me where to go – this man will not be bullied or intimidated.

He is very emotional over the leaving of Leinster. It's a friends club now. Jonathan has huge respect for Joe Schmidt. The hardest part of all this was telling Schmidt on Thursday night.

Jonathan won the Heineken Cup three times with Leinster. They played some of the most brilliant attacking rugby in Heineken Cup history, but there was heart there, too, and money can't buy that.

The cynics will say it's a pity about him. Isn't he getting a wheelbarrow-full of dosh?

But Jonathan already took a huge financial hit three years ago when he turned down Stade Francais. More than half a million in basic pay alone. I have seen the Stade offer, in writing. Every word you read here is true.

A big French club came in with a last-minute bid. They, it seems, believed what they read in the papers, but Racing Metro had the courage to have a go and risk losing face. The Paris club and owner Jacky Lorenzetti made a judgment call.

But really all this could have been sorted out months ago. The week before the Six Nations is not the time to make deals.

The good news is that he is still available to Ireland and will be as committed as ever to the cause. That green jersey means so much to him. The IRFU will still have their 10, and for a relatively small amount of money. The real losers here are Leinster. The extra money is important. Only a fool would suggest otherwise.

But believe me when I say he's still the mad-for-sport little boy who broke the kitchen window with a ball – even though there has been a marked improvement in his kicking in the meantime.

And believe me when I say he's still the same kid of 14 who showed us the spot in the bar where we would hang his first Irish jersey. It's not cockiness or arrogance. It's confidence.

Underneath the quiet exterior lies a fierce determination to succeed. Racing made no mistake. Jonathan will be a big success in France. He will miss home. Clare, his mother, makes lovely roast chicken dinners with gravy every Monday night.

But, my friends, this is the era of the bottom line without context or footnotes. On French balance sheets, employees are entered under assets. In Ireland, workers are shown as an expense.

Good luck young lad and bon chance too.

Irish Independent

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