Sunday 25 February 2018

Blues' Rebel in waiting vows to bow out on a high

Jamie Hagan is enjoying his fourth spell with Leinster but can't wait to move to Melbourne in November
Jamie Hagan is enjoying his fourth spell with Leinster but can't wait to move to Melbourne in November
Jamie Hagan proving a big hit with young Leinster fans at a summer camp

Marcus Ó Buachalla

In many ways it could have been so different. But regardless Jamie Hagan will leave Leinster Rugby in November to pursue a fresh challenge away from the RDS. And yet.

"It's a massive honour to pull on that jersey. I look at the young lads - Ross Byrne who made his debut last weekend and Garry Ringrose who will hopefully get his chance this weekend. Look at the likes of Dan Leavy, Ross Molony, Peter Dooley.

"As one of the more experienced lads in here you want to instill in them just what it means to pull on that jersey, and remind them that for some it doesn't happen. So when you get that chance you have to grab it, cherish it and work hard to not let go.

"And when you do hand the jersey on to the next lad, you want that jersey to be in a better place for the effort and the work you put into wearing it. You want to leave a bit of yourself in that jersey and out on that pitch. And when I head that's what I want to be able to say."

When he talks about Leinster, the love that he has for his home province shines through. Never was this more evident than when the team held an open training session in Skerries during the pre-season. Last man off the pitch was a local lad done good.


"It was special," says Hagan. "I grew up in Balbriggan not too far away so it was a good morning all round. But that's the extra bits that you take for granted maybe - mornings like that meeting the kids and seeing how much it means to them to have us visit. It was good fun."

And it has been good fun. Hagan played in the Amlin Cup final in the RDS in 2013 and was part of the squad that won the Pro12 that year, playing 20 times in his most impressive season in blue. Later that summer his form was rewarded with an Irish cap against the USA.

And yet.

He is just shy of 50 Leinster caps but come November Hagan will come to the end of his fourth stint with Leinster and will pursue a contract with the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby.

No regrets.

"I can't wait," he says. "It's been a great experience being back here. When Guy Easterby offered me the chance to cover during the World Cup I jumped at it but then this opportunity came along."

Australia is not a completely alien land to him. A month travelling when he was 23 was time well spent but he never hit Melbourne. Not to worry. He already has the pull-out couch sorted.

"I have an uncle out there and his family have agreed to put me up for the first while. But the Rebels have been great behind the scenes making sure things are in place for me when I arrive, so hopefully I'll be able to hit the ground running."

There is also the familiarity of a friendly voice and a familiar face.

"A good mate of mine, Eoin Toolan, is head performance analyst so that helped get my foot in the door. Tony McGahan is in place there - I faced his Munster side a few times so I suppose he had an idea of what he was getting. Those are the types of breaks you need, though."

Before then there is the small matter of the Pro12 and points on the board. He hasn't set sail just yet.

"There is a terrific focus within the group to do as best as we can during this phase," he says. "Last weekend wasn't the best of starts against Edinburgh but I think we are in a really good place to put right some of those issues on Saturday in the RDS. We coughed up seven turnovers. You just can't do that at this level."

How difficult is it to put those things right?

"It's hard to say but we have worked our socks off this week to address it," says Hagan. "We had a very honest review session early in the week and we addressed where we let ourselves down in Meggetland.

"But we also acknowledged what went well and what could be built against Cardiff. But we all had an opportunity to perform and did we grasp it? No. I don't think we did. So there is a huge determination to put that right on Saturday."

One thing that did stand up well was their defence. The 28-year-old is quick to acknowledge the role of new defence coach Kurt McQuilkin.

"I've worked with him a few times now and he really is a great guy with a wealth of experience," he says.

"Players have really bought in to what he is trying to do and I think you saw last Friday some of that in action. Having said that we still conceded two tries so again there you have the room for improvement that I hope we will see that against Cardiff."

And Cardiff will demand an improvement. An 11-try rout of Zebre last time out has Hagan and Co on red alert.

"The back-row in particular were on fire. Josh Navidi - how he isn't in the Welsh squad is beyond me - has taken last year's form and carried it with him into this. Josh Turnbull the same. So they will present us with a whole heap of new challenges to what we faced last weekend but sure that's why you play the game. To test yourself week in, week out. It's going to be good."


There it is again. The enthusiasm and the affection for the game and the club he supported as a young lad. The thought of running out at the RDS brings a smile to his face.

"I've played for a number of clubs now and I can say without doubt that a full RDS is like no other ground," he says.

"Just the enthusiasm that the supporters bring to it. It's infectious and you can't help but feed off that. It's the same when you meet them on the street. Very forthcoming but not overbearing. It's a pleasure to play in front of them, to play for them, to represent them."

And yet.

"Look, professional sport is all about ups and downs. And I've had some brilliant highs and the lows aren't going to take away from that. I'm looking forward hugely to the next chapter I my career and my life.

"But first up it's Cardiff. And then Dragons. And I won't stop until I have left this jersey in a better place."

Irish Independent

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