Comment: There are three reasons why Tadhg Furlong was able to negotiate a better IRFU deal than Peter O'Mahony
Tadhg Furlong and Peter O’Mahony signed three-year national contracts last week.
The business was concluded last Friday, five days after Furlong was Man of the Match for Leinster against the Exeter Chiefs, two days before O’Mahony earned the same accolade against the Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that they rose above all around them, not in the relative comfort of home surroundings, but in the enemy’s back garden.
There is an uneasy feeling about digging into the exact amount paid out to two of Ireland’s main men, who are at different stages of their careers.
O’Mahony, at 28, is one cap away from joining the illustrious centurions at Munster.
What the club captain offers as a player was what he showed at Leicester as the best lineout forward in Irish rugby.
More than that, he embodies that wiry, warrior spirit of being able to play above the physical gifts he has inherited.
When his departure was contemplated, the doomsday merchants were out in droves, forecasting the end of Munster’s world.
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The IRFU simply had to act and pay what it took to keep O’Mahony at home, reported to be in or around €450,000 a year.
It was interesting to note how O’Mahony used the media as a tool for his bargaining position.
In contrast, Furlong did not revert to a public discourse before sealing his deal, believed to be close to €500,000, in a sign of how indispensable his position is.
What makes Furlong the more valuable asset? What criteria is used to evaluate the worth of a player in contract negotiations?
THE IRFU’S NATIONAL CONTRACT CRITERIA:
O’Mahony is into his ninth season and has played 99 times for Munster since his debut against Ulster in January 2010.
There have been 42 caps for his country since his debut against Italy in the 2012 Six Nations, even though he is not always guaranteed to be first choice.
There have been injuries that reflect the nature of his confrontational style of play, a knee injury at the 2015 World Cup taking him out for a year.
Furlong made his Leinster debut against the Dragons in November 2013 and has quickly amassed 74 caps for the Blues into just his fifth season.
For Ireland, he was eased into the international arena, starting just once, against South Africa in June 2016, from his opening eight caps.
It was in the back-to-back matches against New Zealand in November 2016 that he made his mark as a man not for the future but the present. He now has 19 caps, starting all eight games in his second season and two last month.
O’Mahony benefited from what turned out to be Jamie Heaslip’s lower back injury to take the plaudits in deconstructing England’s vaunted lineout last March.
It was the springboard for his place in the British & Irish Lions squad, eventually captaining the Lions in the first test, before failing to make the 23 for the second and third tests.
In contrast, Furlong opened all eyes with his impact against New Zealand in Chicago.
All along, he spoke about how his limited big-game experience did not add up to the profile of a Lion. Nevertheless, there was no let-up in his form that led to being the Lions tight-head for all three tests. He has come back from New Zealand an even better player, currently looking like the best in his position in the world.
POSITION SPECIFIC RESOURCES
The plethora of Ireland back-rowers touching world-class status, outside the specialist role of number eight, begins with Sean O’Brien. Behind him, O’Mahony ranks with CJ Stander, sometimes used at blindside by Joe Schmidt. Then Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy, Jordi Murphy and Tommy O’Donnell are all legitimate options.
However, Furlong’s stature in the game as so much more than a serious scrummager is bordering on unique. He is a defensive leader in that he rarely misses tackles, even topping that chart against Exeter last Sunday week.
He has the hands of a three-quarter, the power to carry in close and surprising agility for such a big man.
At present Furlong, a defensive leader for club and country, is as far ahead of everyone else in his position as are Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray. Which man could Ireland cope better without? No contest.
This is where O’Mahony comes into his own, not for what he can do for Ireland, but for what he means to Munster.
His leverage had little or nothing to do with the clubs speculated to be interested.
It had everything to do with what it would say about Munster and where they are going.
The southern province could not afford to lose their primary leader and last tie to the glory days, as a young man schooled in the ways of Paul O’Connell.
Why would Furlong choose to leave Leinster and Ireland? Well, the only answer is for money.
There is absolutely no doubt that he could command E750,000 in France where the work of a tight-head is revered.
Outside that, the 25-year-old has not even started at a Rugby World Cup and should have a full decade ahead of him.
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