Wednesday 21 February 2018

Irish rugby stars are creating new businesses off the pitch

Jamie Heaslip
Jamie Heaslip
Rob Kearney
Gordon D'Arcy
Tommy Bowe

Sean Dunne

As the Six Nations looms, rugby legends Sean O'Brien, Gordon D'Arcy and Tommy Bowe tell Sean Dunne about their new business ventures

THE PUB OWNERS: Rob and Dave Kearney, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien

(The Bridge 1859)

Formerly known as Bellamy's Pub in Ballsbridge, this popular Dublin haunt was acquired in 2014 in a joint investment by some of Ireland's greatest rugby players. Run under the management of publican Noel Anderson, the pub has been renamed The Bridge 1859. Located just a short crawl from the Aviva Stadium, it's a terrific location for its owners.

Sean O'Brien, the "Tullow Tank", who recently returned from injury, told the Sunday Independent how much he'd learnt since starting out in business.. "It's a great change from rugby, seeing how a business is run and the things that people on the outside don't see. It's been a learning curve in that sense, but highly enjoyable."

O'Brien is not involved in the day-to-day running of the business - but says if there were bigger decisions within the enterprise regarding issues that needed to be dealt with, "An agreement between all of us would have to be made.

"Nowadays players have to be thinking of life after rugby and preparing for that with smart investments and interests. You have to get involved in as much as possible to give yourself the foundation to work off of after rugby."

So what's it like to be in business with the Kearney brothers and Jamie Heaslip?

"To be honest, I haven't had any issues with any of the lads, we are always very honest and open with each other. I think as long as we all know where we stand, everything will be fine."

O'Brien is looking forward to the future of the bar and possible other ventures adding: "I have a great business mentor to bounce ideas off - Netwatch CEO David Walsh. He's been through it all and has a great understanding of business that I learn from."

Eoin O'Malley

(The Bath Pub & Sam's Bar)

The importance of planning for a life after rugby is in the mind of each player and someone who knows this all too well is former Leinster player Eoin O'Malley.

He was forced to retire early because of a knee injury but has reinvented himself as an investor in the hospitality sector. O'Malley owns The Bath Pub in Sandymount, which offers competition for O'Brien and the Kearneys at their bar.

O'Malley has also transformed the old SamSara on Dawsons Street into a hipster hangout, renaming it Sam's Bar. It's hugely popular among twentysomethings with beards and skinny jeans. Location, it seems, is everything in this game.


Gordon D'Arcy

(The Exchequer and Pilates Form School)

One of the most popular gastro bars in Dublin is owned by Gordon D'Arcy and his business partners Peter Rock and Ian Tucker. The popular eatery branched out last year to the Southside suburb of Ranelagh with the opening of a second premises trading under the same name.

The Exchequer wine bar and restaurant is not the only business interest held by the teak tough centre.

The Leinster player and his wife Aoife Cogan combined their expertise over a year ago to open the Form School. The school offers an innovative Pilates studio that focuses on a range of work-out options.

D'Arcy, who holds an MBA, explained that year-on-year his commercial interests are performing well.

"The Form School is doing brilliantly and it's great to get a look at the year-on-year comparisons," he says. He stresses the importance of putting in the ground work and building blocks for a new business, especially in an area like health and fitness.

"Your product has to be able to sell itself and at the Form School we make sure to create a customer experience at the front of house to enhance the customers' experience.

"We have excellent teachers at the school and by creating this environment, we are creating a relaxed space for our clients to come into and you can see this all the time by the return to the business."

The Leinster inside centre credits his wife Aoife and her "competitive business streak" with the success of the venture.

He's upfront with business advice. "If you don't know something, then find someone who does and park your ego," he says. He also stresses the importance of diversifying investments.

D'Arcy recalls how daunting the initial experience was of getting involved in business but now says that they have a handle on it.

"At the Exchequer, we have created a comfortable environment for people to keep returning to. We have built a good brand at the Exchequer of 'meet, eat and drink' and hopefully that's going to continue to grow for us," he says.

When it comes to discussing business ideas on the field, D'Arcy admits while international players try to focus on the game as much as possible, when they are in close quarters training down at Carton House it's hard not to talk shop.

"Thankfully I'm not in competition with any of the other guys' bars or businesses - so yeah, that makes it a lot easier."

Jamie Heaslip


The restaurant business seems to be the investment of choice amongst the Irish squad, as Jamie Heaslip has also backed a steak house called Bear on South William Street. The restaurant is a collaboration between Heaslip and the Jo'Burger group.

Despite a competitive market out there for the restaurant business and strong competition, it seems that the restaurant is pulling in the numbers.


Tommy Bowe

(Tommy Bowe Designs)

Ireland wing Bowe has been in the rag trade for the past few years and his gents' brand XV Kings and shoe range Lloyd & Pryce have got out of the traps fast.

Bowe says that 2015 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for him.

"We were blown away by the response to the clothes and it's very hard to get right so hopefully we can keep it going," he says. "We expanded for our Spring/Summer range but hope to have a much bigger and better Autumn collection."

He says to be successful - in business and rugby - you have to work hard, be dedicated and love it.

"I love having the distraction of business to take my mind off rugby and also to prepare me for life after rugby," he admits.

When it comes to being in business for such a well-known sports player as Bowe, it can be sometimes difficult to stand on business merit alone and not be compared to his alter ego of a rugby star.

Like D'Arcy and O'Brien, Bowe says that when it comes to discussing business affairs with his team-mates they try to keep it away from the game as much as possible.

"We do like to chat about how to deal with juggling training, matches and also staying involved in the business side of things as much as possible. It can be nice to hear their ideas of what works best."

These players are adamant that for now rugby is their primary goal and their eye is firmly on the game - but D'Arcy is also keen to look to the future and with a rapidly diversifying portfolio, the 34-year-old centre says: "When the time is right, I will look to the next business venture that may come my way."

Sunday Indo Business

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