Playing the money game
In the last 30 years, Irish rugby has moved from semi-amateur status, enjoyed within a few enclaves around the country, to a contender for the national game. On the back of a golden period of success for Irish clubs and the national team, the stars of rugby are now household names and that growth has been reflected in the money that now pours into the sport.
In 2018, in what was a historic season for Ireland, Joe Schmidt's national side achieved a Six Nations Grand Slam and Leinster were crowned Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 champions.
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The IRFU's revenues rose by €1.8m to €87.5m. And a wealthier national organisation has been mirrored in wealthier national players.
While our current crop of stars still do not command the types of salaries that Premier League soccer players enjoy, they are vastly wealthier than their predecessors in rugby. The kind of money modern players earn depends on a whole range of factors, ranging from their seniority and accomplishments in the game to where they play on the pitch - data released by player agency Esportif recently showed that out halves tend to command the highest salaries across Europe.
At the Rugby World Cup, new stars of the game will announce themselves - players will have the chance to burnish their reputations among sponsors and the public and set themselves up financially for life.
The current young stars of the game have displayed nous and savvy in investment and panache and flair in spending. Two Irish players - Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton - are among the highest-earning players in the world, both bringing in around €700,000- €800,000. The income of a further elite group - including Peter O'Mahony, Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong - hover just below those leaders.
Irish legend Ronan O'Gara recently explained that the figures reported for rugby salaries can be inaccurate and include sponsorship work, but even if these figures are in the ballpark, they would make the current crop of Irish rugby stars amongst our highest-paid athletes.
Peter O’Mahony was named as one of the Forbes 30 under 30 earlier this year. The 28-year-old Munster and Ireland stalwart earns a reported €500,000 a year and his impressive speaking style and good looks make him a sponsor favourite; he has agreements with Adidas, Marks and Spencer, Audi Cork and Bank of Ireland.
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Keith Wood was without doubt one of the best players ever to don the green jersey. Considered the best hooker in the world during his era, he was capped 58 times for Ireland and captained the Lions. Wood is a company director at W2 Consulting among other business interests.
Gordon D’Arcy won 50 caps for Ireland and travelled on two Lions tours. Towards the end of his playing career, D’Arcy began carving out a second career as a pundit and corporate speaker and completed an internship at financial firm Investec, ending up employed in their wealth management arm. The former centre runs Form School, a fitness business, with his wife, Aoife. He is also co-owner of The Exchequer Pub in Dublin.
Tommy Bowe made his Irish debut in 2004 and is still the second highest Irish try scorer behind Brian O’Driscoll. He also played on the 2009 and 2013 Lions tours, before his retirement last year. Bowe was always regarded as one of the more sharply dressed players off the pitch and he has used this reputation in his post-rugby career. In 2010 he entered into collaboration with Monaghan-based company Lloyd & Pryce to create the Tommy Bowe collection of shoes. In the wake of the success of this venture, Bowe moved into the clothes market in 2013 with the launch of the XV Kings range of clothing.
The current captain of the Irish team, Rory Best, earns a salary commensurate with his status — a reported €400,000. The Craigavon man also signed earlier this year with sponsorship consulting firm Onside, where he will serve on its sports advisory panel.
Leinster centre Robbie Henshaw is believed to be on a salary of €450,000 and his company Robton, which is involved in advertising and promotions, made nearly €300,000 in the year to the end of 2017.