Saturday 3 December 2016

No fairytale but Reddan retires on own terms

Scrum-half concerned that he is letting Leo Cullen down

Published 28/06/2016 | 02:30

Eoin Reddan at the Nelson Mandela Stadium after playing his 71st and last match for Ireland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Eoin Reddan at the Nelson Mandela Stadium after playing his 71st and last match for Ireland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Try though he did, the fairytale finish didn't quite come off for Eoin Reddan on Saturday but there's still a lot to be said for walking away on your own terms.

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The Ireland scrum-half had the offer to continue playing with Leinster for another year on the table. However, there was also a chance to start a new career that he felt might not come again, so he chose to quit rugby.

His final act was a dramatic one as he made an impact off the bench at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday evening.

He won the breakdown penalty that took Ireland to within a score of South Africa and was excellent in those thrilling final phases as he sniped, barked and passed to the limits of his ability to try and get his side over the line.

Panic

Even at 35, the scrum-half was still capable of driving his side on, still able to make defenders panic and keep the service slick, even if the Springboks held out.

The six-point defeat left him feeling "a bit flat", but he could also reflect on his 71-cap career with a lot of pride.

"I'm proud because I worked," he said. "Excuse the expression but I worked my b****cks until today and that's what makes me happiest and hopefully I can do that again in what I do next."

Rugby's loss is the world of aircraft leasing's gain as every one of Reddan's colleagues spoke highly of their departing colleague.

"It was great for Redser (to make that impact)," Joe Schmidt said. "I was just willing the lads to get over. 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 71kg whippet, he 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; (his wife) Aoife (and children) Tom, Evey; they're a super family. The environment in our team is a fairly tight-knit group so Reddser will be a real loss for us."

For Reddan, it was an emotional occasion due to a surprise last minute arrival.

"Things seem to hit me a bit later," he reflected. "My brother Cian flew in from New York and surprised me, it was quite emotional. My dad was here on Friday night as well, we went for dinner together and it was lovely, I really enjoyed that.

"Normally things sink in with me a bit late so I was a little bit emotional on Saturday, but it was business as usual for the week.

"I really, really wanted to try and win the game. That last 15 minutes I was trying to stay in every second, make sure every second counted and nearly got there. It would have been great, but it wasn't to be."

Stepping away was not an easy decision for Reddan, who thought long and hard about whether to call it a day.

"It's a tough call," he said. "The thing I'm going to do 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! For me it's an opportunity at the right time.

"I'm very conscious of the journey that Leo (Cullen) 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 bit.

"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."

Retiring from rugby is a tough experience for many players, but at least Reddan got to walk away on his own terms.

"For some lads it's a foregone conclusion. For guys like me, it's not. It might happen, it might not happen and there's a bit of luck involved in that," he said.

"Certainly the way things fell into place for me; I was playing okay at the club and you know I got a chance here and it all fell out nicely and I'm very lucky that it happened like that.

"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 22-year-old second-row - bizarre!

Dreaming

"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."

Having spent three weeks in the company of the next generation of players, Reddan has full belief that they can continue Irish rugby's success into the future after he steps away.

"I'm extremely confident," he said. "There's a great blend - you see guys coming on the pitch on Saturday, taking balls and making breaks without an ounce of doubt in their minds and I think sometimes youth gives you that.

"Guys like me who've played for years spend all our time making sure we're not worrying too much about things going right or wrong.

"It's very hard to ignore what went wrong at times but some of the younger guys come in and really showed a great. . . like you don't do something for the first time without being afraid of doing something wrong.

"To win a Test series down here you're going to have do something huge, to aim high, do things that haven't been done before. We came close and if a few things had gone our way, we might have done it on Saturday.

"We're developing quote a robust squad that can deal with injuries or dips in form.

"We're going to have loads of guys ready to go so it's positive. Joe looked quite determined to bring them on to the next level."

From now on, Reddan's will be a watching brief. He's played his part, now it's time for real life to take over.

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