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I played my part in the first Rugby World Cup, but it gets bigger and better every time

IRISH rugby legend Hugo MacNeill has a major responsibility on his broad shoulders, he is steering Ireland's bid to host the Rugby World Cup in just nine years.

The former full-back may be the managing director of global investment group Goldman Sachs Ireland, but he knows the massive opportunity that the major sporting event could bring to the country.

It's clear that while the project is still very much in its infancy and there is no guarantee of the working group finding that a bid for the event in 2023 should go ahead, even the prospect of it excites him.

"This is the third biggest sporting event in the world after the Olympics and the football World Cup and you kind of think 'well could an island like Ireland do it?'," he said.

"I was lucky enough to play in the first Rugby World Cup, which wasn't really a huge tournament. We hadn't really got our heads around it, but since then it's become this huge tournament and every year it gets bigger and better," he said.

"So we've been asked to look at, but it's very encouraging when you see an island like New Zealand, which is quite similar to us in terms of population doing it."

However, MacNeill is conscious of getting carried away.

"Obviously you don't want to pre-judge the outcome, but it's certainly a very exciting project," he says.


One aspect of the potential bid that Hugo is particularly enthusiastic about is the fact that any possible bid would involve cross-border co-operation.

"Rugby has always been played as one team, but of course we've got two jurisdictions. To bid for the world cup it would have to be the whole island and that's really exciting as well.

"The great thing about playing rugby is that it took us up to the North at a time when very few things would have taken people up North."

Hugo gained a huge respect and understanding for his team-mates from Northern Ireland throughout his playing career and says he used to discuss the Troubles with his team-mates.

"We used to talk about it an awful lot, especially a friend of mine, Trevor England, who played ring-wing, right next to me on the Irish team. Three of my great team-mates, Nigel Carr, Keith Ross and Trevor, and their wives come down every year to stay with us for one of the internationals and then we go up to Belfast and spend time with them, so Northern Ireland has always been a big part of my life."

Hugo credits rugby with bringing many positive things his way, but most of all he feels the sport has given him friends for life.

"I was very lucky playing. I played in Trinity, then over in Oxford and playing in the Irish team was really just fantastic. We were very lucky because the team we played in, over the years we played we won two championships and we shared another one. It was a very good time for Irish rugby. The whole country really got behind us, like they're doing now at the moment."

Now enjoying a successful career in business, Hugo says he is extremely lucky with his time in the green jersey.

He's come a long way since his Trinity days, quickly followed by his time in Oxford, which ran alongside his Irish international rugby career.

"People sometimes say 'Ah God, you must miss that you didn't play in the professional era', but I actually don't," he admits. "We were very lucky in some ways because you got two lives – you had the life where you had the privilege of playing for Ireland, but you also had a full student life and then you had to go and get a job as well."

After college Hugo moved to London, where he began working for the Boston Consultant Group, before going on to join Goldman Sachs.

In 2000, he returned to Ireland and continues to work for the international investment banking company. Yet, as if all that wasn't enough to contend with, Hugo is also chair of the Ireland Funds, a worldwide philanthropic network that supports worthy causes and community projects in Ireland.

Hugo (55) feels that the current generation of Irish rugby players need to cultivate prospective careers outside of their sport very carefully.


"I have great respect for the guys at the moment, but it's like they are the guinea pig generation because there's only going to be about probably 1pc of players playing, who will, when they stop, be financially independent. It's not like soccer," he says.

The Dubliner says that he has two major regrets about his rugby career.

"I'd love to have played for Leinster in a Heineken Cup. And the second thing I would have liked to do would be to train like an athlete, because we did a lot of dumb training, road running and long distance and now they train like proper athletes," he said.

As for Saturday's match against Italy?

"I'm hoping that we have a fantastic end to the season in Paris, so we must not slip up against Italy. It's really important and it's tough when you don't have that element of fear," he said.