Sexton move may open floodgates – Brennan
Published 06/02/2013 | 04:00
IT is only when Trevor Brennan refers to France's defeat at the hands of Italy as a "catastrophe" and pronounces it in the French way that you are reminded of how ensconced the Leixlip man is in Toulouse.
At 39, he has now spent more than a quarter of his life living in the city he calls his home, and 11 years on from signing a two-year contract to join Stade Toulousain from Leinster, he has not looked back.
His pub De Danu is, he says, thriving as "there is no recession in France, thank God." The rugby tour business he co-owns is also doing well.
Now, he watches from a distance as another Leinster man makes a move similar to the one he made in his prime. Jonathan Sexton is, Brennan admits, on another level, and the financial rewards he will make from his expected stint at Parisian club Racing Metro are a major attraction.
But, having won three Heineken Cups in four seasons, there are also life experiences and new challenges to be had for the 27-year-old Ireland fly-half, who only has to look at his former St Mary's clubmate to witness what a move to France can provide.
It wasn't always easy, and Brennan admits the first months were really tough, but, ultimately, his move turned out well, and he believes Sexton will thrive in France.
"It was quite difficult, because it wasn't just me I had to think of, but my wife had to give up her job as a family therapist," he said.
"It was originally only a two-year deal and that was all I had in my head going over. Do the two years and then, hopefully, go back and play with Leinster. After three or four months, I got an extension of another two years and then after a period it was stretched to five.
"I had security then. With Leinster I was getting a year-on- year contract and that security wasn't there. The biggest barrier was the language, it probably still is to this day. The rugby, the fact that you were playing with star players like Fabien Pelous, Emile Ntamack, Clement Poitrenaud and Frederic Michalak, they brought my game to a different level.
"We had a lot of good players at Leinster, but we were still half professional, half amateur at that stage and the coaching was brought to a different level and the style of play was also at a different level."
Sexton, he admits, is in a stronger position and will settle well at an ambitious club, just like Jonny wilkinson, who has rejuvenated his career in Toulon.
"I think Jonny will fit in there lovely. He is a young guy who has done it all with Leinster and Ireland and he'll be grand," said Brennan. "When he comes over and plays a few games, he'll become a star.
"We saw it with Wilkinson, who came over after having a tough time in England and brought it to a different level, week in week out. He's a star for Toulon and I'm sure Jonny will be the same with Racing. They're a club who have a lot of ambition."
Brennan believes that success for Sexton could lead to a stream of Irish players moving to France, saying Toulouse tried to get him to encourage his former provincial team-mates to join him.
"After Wilkinson signed, a lot of other English players signed," he recalled. "I'm sure when Racing get Jonny, they'll sit him down and ask him about players, whether he will have any contact there.
"I had it myself. 'Can you ring O'Driscoll, can you ring D'Arcy', would you have his mobile, talk to his agents...
"It is a pity that the IRFU and Leinster let him go, it is about money at the end of the day. I think it will open the floodgates for other players to go.
"The tax scheme that was brought in by Charlie McCreevy for sports people to claim back 40pc of their 10 best years has allowed players build up a pension of sorts. That is the carrot that keeps players there. That and the fear factor of not being picked for Ireland.
"Certainly, that's what happened myself. I came over here and won a Heineken Cup and played in French finals, but never got another cap.
"Having said that, I wouldn't have been near the same level as Jonny Sexton. He is one of the best out-halves in the world, he has been the first name on the teamsheet.
"He'll still get picked for Ireland, because there are not that many good out-halves ready to take his place. I'm sure he has it built into his contract where he has to be made available for Ireland when the call comes."
This weekend, Brennan will return home to play for an Ireland Legends side against England for the Stuart Mangan Memorial Cup.
Fitness, he admits, may be a problem, but his competitive instincts are sure to kick in. What he is most looking forward to is gracing the Donnybrook turf once again and catching up with some old comrades after the game.
"I wouldn't have seen a lot of the Leinster lads since leaving 10 years ago," he said. "You might see one or two at an international, but it is a great way to meet up with the likes of Shane Byrne, Reggie Corrigan, Victor Costello, Malcolm O'Kelly and Denis Hickie. Mick Galwey and some of the Munster and Ulster lads too.
"To meet up after the game and have a few beers, just like it was in the old days. We'll go up to Kiely's, have a few beers and make a good night of it."
He has made a life there. Perhaps the younger man following in his footsteps can do the same.
• The Ireland v England Legends Charity game, featuring Trevor Brennan, kicks off at 7.30 on Saturday at Donnybrook Stadium. Tickets for the game are priced at €10 for adults, and €5 concessions are available at the gate. They are also on sale from www.ticketmaster.ie. Proceeds will go to the IRFU Charitable Trust.