Saturday 18 November 2017

Eoin Reddan in tune to an upbeat tempo

Eoin Reddan is older, wiser and still as positive as ever, says Brendan Fanning

Eoin Reddan: 'It's the first time I've ever answered this question. What, if I do four more?'
Eoin Reddan: 'It's the first time I've ever answered this question. What, if I do four more?'
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Just under a year ago, and coincidentally in the week Leinster played Cardiff in the Pro12, Leo Cullen had an idea to increase the feelgood factor in a group that was not feeling very good. On the playing field Leinster had been falling short of their targets, and on the training field they were getting ratty with each other.

Cullen's plan was that every player should text the team-mate numbered just below him with a positive message on the night before the game. So Jonny Sexton sent the following to Eoin Reddan: 'You're the best scrumhalf that I have played with. I think you've got all the attributes of a great scrumhalf, but what I think is your best attribute is that you produce your biggest performances in the biggest games. That's the sign of a brilliant player.'

Imagine the flood of well-being that would wash over you after reading that from a friend and team-mate. Peer pressure is the single greatest motivator in sport, so to have the respect of the man beside you means everything.

That passage features in Sexton's book Becoming a Lion, which Reddan claims not to have read yet. Well, when he buys his copy he can go to page 84 for a quick pick-me-up. It is an engaging, well-written (by his ghost Peter O'Reilly) diary of a year in Sexton's life, in which we get a self-portrait of a flinty, driven character – sufficiently insecure to be likeable – bordering on the obsessive, and with an over-developed sense of responsibility. It also tells us something of his partner, Eoin Reddan.

Two things test the Positivity Quotient in players more than anything on the scoreboard: injury, and being out of favour with the coach. In a fine career that is closing in on 250 first-class games, injury for Reddan thankfully hasn't been a hobbler. The leg break suffered against France last season was, at three months, by far the longest lay-off in 12 years as a pro. He is more familiar with being unloved.

It seems like another lifetime now since Reddan was taking turns with Mike Prendergast admiring Peter Stringer start for Munster. Does he carry any resentment from time lost in that period?

"Bitter? Yeah I probably was at the time, when I was in it," he says. "Without the experience of knowing how to take it and deal with what's in your control maybe at that stage (I was). That came a bit later for me. But I was definitely angry when I wasn't playing, but looking back I can view those disappointments the right way. Not massively (bitter).

"It is inches, like when you're told you're not playing there's a subtle difference in how you approach that and how you take it. How positive you can be for the squad versus worrying for your own position. The other thing is I think I was 21 or 22 and (thinking) you're on your last contract and three months from now you might need a job. It's a bit harder probably to see the wood from the trees there. Then when you're a bit older you're a bit wiser, and it's not impending doom: you are part of something and you can contribute to it all the time. So it's probably not just my mental approach but the reality of the surroundings as well."

Nowhere was that better illustrated than in the 2007 World Cup. Again Reddan, who had fled Munster to carve out a successful spot with Wasps, was the glamorous assistant to the little magician from Cork. You'll remember that campaign as a deeply depressing episode in Irish rugby where great expectations turned into a French farce. The scene was primed for any malcontents – and Reddan had cause to carry that placard – to further their own ambitions. Yet the reserve scrumhalf was steadfast in his support of the operation and his positivity about being able to make a contribution if the chance came along. It was ironic that the reward for his loyalty was exactly that opportunity: playing against the Pumas at the fag end of the pool in a contest Ireland were never going to win.

These days Reddan is as upbeat as ever. He will be 33 in November and is as excited about the prospect of playing against Munster next weekend as he was 10 years ago when playing for Munster against Leinster.

With an almost straight face he suggests that his career (his Leinster contract is up at the end of the season) might be extended to the term of an American president. "It's the first time I've ever answered this question," he says. "I'd say, what, if I do four more?"

Reddan might be a player-coach by then. Or a financial analyst. Or a businessman who sits on the board of a charity but has a few fingers in other pies. Currently he parks his backside a few times a year in the office of the Irish Youth Foundation. He is enthused by it, not least you suspect for the opportunity it affords him to see how boardrooms operate compared to changing rooms. "It's been great. Basically they are a grant-making organisation and they try to help children in two main periods of their lives: disadvantaged children trying to get from fifth and sixth class into first year . . . (and then from Junior Cert to senior cycle).

"They run homework clubs where teachers at the end of primary school identify individuals at risk and suggest they to go to the homework club, and people around the community would end up being jealous of people going to the homework club because they are well looked after and then it creates a bit of a roll-on effect because you have to go to school every day to be allowed to go to homework club afterwards.

"The same thing happens with Junior Cert – if they get into that they can go on to the Leaving Cert. So they would be their two big projects. They're going off to France at the moment, Paris to Nice cycling, and they are trying to raise €50,000 for a homework club in the old Mendicity building in town. At the moment I'd probably be sitting back admiring the work that is going on but trying to add in anything I can in terms of raising money and particularly awareness through rugby."

He has another little crusade going as well: the promotion of the Pro12. Alive to what's going on across Europe in the escalating war between unions and clubs, Reddan reckons that the quality of the bread and butter he eats every week is undervalued. When he was with Wasps his colleagues used to rave about the Irish derbies, specifically what's coming on Saturday in Thomond Park. Maybe Celtic/Italian rugby needs a harder sell?

"You'll often hear the English Premiership or the Top 14 is over-hyped," he says. "But everything is relative. It's overhyped compared to what? The answer is, it's overhyped compared to the Rabo. So maybe we are under-hyped. Now, we are where we are but we've been playing this for I don't know how many years (since 2001), but the English league is perceived to be a massive standard, with massive TV rights and, you know, people want to be involved in it. That has to start somewhere.

"Now, the rugby in the Premiership compared to the rugby here – which I have played – even as soon as I got home, the competition was more exciting, tougher and with bigger intensity every week here, okay? But we didn't have TV crews walking around here every Tuesday and Thursday, asking you about this hundred-year old rivalry that you have with Bath and then the next week, you've got 150-year-old rivalry with Saracens. It's all easily drummed up. And all of that culminates after years and years of big TV deals."

Like the rest of us, he's aware that the impasse may result in a year in limbo before European rugby kick-starts again, in whatever form.

"Yeah, that's what people are probably arguing: 'Sure what the hell if we miss a year?' Current players certainly aren't thinking like that. I'm hoping it will all work out, to be perfectly honest with you. Meanwhile, it's a good time to get behind the Rabo a little bit."

No better man to spread an upbeat message. Better still, he'd be able to pass it on to someone who moments earlier was at his throat. His relationship with Jonny Sexton for example had enough spark to light a fire on a wet Friday night in South Wales. Their Leinster team-mates used to gather round to warm themselves on the flames.

At training in the week of a Heineken Cup match not too long ago, Sexton had bawled his partner out of it over a poor pass, when, at the appropriate moment, Reddan shoulder-charged him en route to a ruck, hissing: 'Look after your own shit!' Whereupon Sexton chased after him and took his legs away with a swinging boot.

By the time they got to the changing rooms they were laughing about it. And when they fetched up at the team hotel they were, as usual, rooming together. You'd wonder how bad things needed to get before Leo Cullen reached for his team-building tactics.

Sunday Independent

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