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Wednesday 11 December 2019

Alarm bells should ring over foreign legion's new recruit

He plays in the pivot position but yesterday Jonny Sexton was at the heart of a pivotal moment in Irish rugby. Sexton is the first superstar at the height of his power to move to another country to play his club rugby.

Sexton rejected the offer the IRFU tabled and has signed up to Racing Metro in Paris for two years – reportedly earning in the region of €750,000 a year.

The likes of Tommy Bowe, Geordan Murphy and even Trevor Brennan were at different stages of their career when they decided to move abroad. But Sexton? He's number one to wear the number 10 Lions jersey in Australia this summer.

There have been plenty of flirtations and considerations before by Irish players with French clubs. Brian O'Driscoll rolled the dice with Biarritz before deciding to stay put. But as the sleet poured down yesterday as I headed into the IRFU offices to interview chief executive Philip Browne, I wondered why haven't the IRFU saved for this rainy day?

The threat was always there, that one day an Irish player would act on the talk and walk. Browne strongly refuted that Sexton, considering his status, should have been kept in Ireland "at all costs". The IRFU weren't going to be held to ransom by any player. But this isn't any player. Consistently, we've seen the bravery of Sexton on the rugby pitch.

But deciding to leave Leinster is one of his bravest decisions so far.

He is leaving his home comforts, a life that he has known and thrived in and has elected to push the boundaries to see what else his rugby career can offer.

Loyalty in the professional rugby game is not an issue that should be questioned. It is not the same as loyalty in the GAA.

There are no parish lines in pro rugby. Sexton has proved his loyalty to Leinster every time he has hit the pitch, every time he has barked at players in an effort to get the best out of them and get the best out of himself. This decision is about safeguarding his own future.

Emigration is a major part of our life once again in Ireland – some GAA clubs around the country are struggling to fill teams.

But here we have one of own stars who is wanted abroad. He's got a job to go to and a well-paid one at that. He and fiancee Laura plan on taking French lessons. This new adventure will open his mind to a new way of living and approach.

Sexton lives in a professional world where he needs to make the most of his earning potential. It's a relatively short shelf life. Of course we see plenty of examples in the world of professional football. Robbie Keane has chased the dollar from Coventry to Milan to Tottenham and over to LA.

The fact is we have been very fortunate that Ireland's best players have been playing their rugby on our doorsteps.

We have to wait and see if Sexton's move will open the floodgates.

But the reason we're having The Gathering this year is because there was an exodus in Irish life. Sexton is a man who will showcase his talent in another country, gather up as much experience as he can and will hopefully reap the rewards.

Sinead Kissane is a sports presenter and reporter with TV3

Irish Independent

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