Tuesday 23 January 2018

Contract hype too distracting for Leinster, warns Costello

Paul Wallace and Victor Costello chat at the Aviva Stadium yesterday
Paul Wallace and Victor Costello chat at the Aviva Stadium yesterday
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Tomorrow week, Victor Costello and the rest of the Leinster team who reached the semi-finals of the first European Cup in 1995 will be celebrated at the Aviva Stadium at half-time.

However, on the basis of his impassioned performance at a press call to promote that game yesterday, the province might invite their former No 8 into the dressing-room to gee up the troops.

A decade has passed since Costello hung up his boots, but he still cares deeply about his old team and is clearly not a fan of Toulon's "mercenaries".

Yet he is concerned that the current crop of players are being distracted by the external factors at play at this time of year, with the news agenda dominated by transfer talk as a host of contracts come up for review.

The fact that Ian Madigan and Ben Te'o's futures have been up for discussion in recent days despite the presence of the biggest game of Leinster's season on Sunday in Toulon has irked Costello who wants the IRFU to install a transfer window in order to prevent the distractions at pivotal stages of the season.

"Everybody needs job security, but if Madigan's putting on a blue shirt and in six months' time he could be wearing a different shirt, it's not good.

"Everyone wants to be settled and playing with people they like to play with, their friends," he explained.

"If you look at when Johnny Sexton was negotiating his contract before the 2013 Six Nations, before the first game we were wondering if Johnny was going to be here in six months.

"It's not good for anyone, everyone needs to be settled in their job and it's up to the players' agents to make sure that their clients are not distracted and that they're going out in the best physical and mental condition they can.

"All of the (transfer talk) is a distraction. Now, people need to look after their careers and their pension, all of that, but at the end of the day it's a contact sport and you need to be focused.

Regulated

"Agents need to be regulated and they need to be told that you can't start that (negotiating in the media). Obviously players are going to out their 'for sale' signs up and see what's out there, negotiate with that in their pocket, but for agents disrupting a squad, they should be regulated.

"There should be a time of the season, a window, where it should be done and dusted by then. If not, forget it until next year.

"It's a professional game and people are allowed to maximise their earnings but at the end of the day, if you said to me 'I'll give you 100 quid to run through that window' I'd tell you to F-off. If my mate asked me to run through it, and he really needed it, you'd do it.

"That's what rugby is all about, you've got to trust the guys around you, believe in the guys around you. If you're starting thinking, 'I'm going, this isn't happening for me,' it just sets a rotten core I think, particularly for guys that are wondering if X is going to be here next year and what's his commitment.

"It's not good for anyone. I'm not saying the players shouldn't be doing it but it's a distraction, particularly in the weeks and days before a game that was targeted as a big game even if Leinster were winning all round, which they're not.

"That's the distraction and disruption. For a coach like Leo (Cullen) to deal with all this ... Leo was a professional athlete, a great captain, a great leader, a great lineout expert, a great scrum expert. He focuses on what he's good at, instead of all this lark around it."

Costello believes that the current negative outlook in Irish rugby is a tale of transition rather than decline, but is concerned that a sustained run of bad results could lead to key players turning their backs on the provinces in search of success abroad.

"That's the problem with a team not winning, a team not happy together versus a team that is happy together and settled. They need to get back to that stage by performing in training and winning.

"It comes back to the discussion, but mid-season making any contract decision is tough on everyone. If there's a transitional period, embrace the transition.

"Pick your younger guys, and the younger guys in Leinster particularly are able to perform in these areas. You've got to back them. But don't be having this in the press the week before a Toulon game. Some of these things are unavoidable, I understand as well.

"It just adds to the negative, but sometimes when you're down at the bottom, like we were here in 2001 you just have to go for it. Eric Miller was sent off against Munster, we had 14 men and Matt Williams came into the changing room and said 'everyone expects you to lose'. They did expect it, but we managed to turn it around.

"Sometimes, you've just got to go, 'Feck it, we'll give it a shot'. Just do your thing, back to basics and see where it takes you. That where Leinster are at the moment unfortunately.

"A win can change everything. You know yourself. If they won this weekend, I know it's highly unlikely and I know the odds are against them, but if they did they're all heroes again."

Costello does not believe a win in Toulon is as far-fetched as some.

"If they can dig deep into their own tradition and their own belief, they're good players, I think they can upset (Toulon)," he said.

"This is a mercenary side. You can silence the French crowd, they can turn on themselves. It's a tough ask, but it can be done, but they've really got to pull a spirited, passionate, Leinster and Irish performance out of the bag.

"Sometimes, when everything is going against you, you've no choice but to fight. I don't have anything against Toulon, but they're not what I would want in our game. They're a bunch of guys earning a pension but they're winning.

"But I firmly believe they're only winning because nobody stood up to them. If you put the old Leinster team, or the old Munster of old against Toulon, they'd kick them up and down the pitch.

"They're a side that's put together - mercenaries - there's no real tradition with any of them there. No loyalty, I don't believe, but they're good; skilful, talented, experienced, but if you can get under that, and push them to play with their heart, you might expose them."

Irish Independent

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