Sunday 18 March 2018

The top 15 targets in Ireland

Brian O'Driscoll has flirted with France before and would have no lack of suitors if he decided to leave.
Brian O'Driscoll has flirted with France before and would have no lack of suitors if he decided to leave.

the wanted men

When sport and politics mix, the results are often gruesome and this latest spat between the Minister for condescending piety and rugby's Reservoir Dogs is no different.

As ever, money is the central driving force. The money spent by you on helping to build a stadium that hikes ticket prices and flogs its name to the highest bidder. The money spent by you on an overly-priced satellite subscription.

The money spent so wisely by the IRFU to develop what is still, remember, merely the fourth most popular sport in Ireland to new areas of growth like Moate, Mayo and Monaghan.

The money flowing into the Six Nations and ERC limited companies who decided to settle in Dublin -- have a guess whether tax breaks or rent prices lured them here as they seek a bottom-line profit ever year.

It's the money that could be lost to the game -- but ignore the shrieking €12m nonsense emanating from an IRFU who have the winning of this argument if they just turn the volume down a tad.

And ultimately, it's about the money being paid to the stars of Irish rugby -- far from the days when a rugby ball and television only collided during the Five Nations, the professional game is now inextricably linked with TV rights.

Sky's pockets are deeper so, just as IRFU clubs and schools networks have benefited from the extra moolah, so too have Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell's bank balances bulged more excessively than otherwise would be the case (even more so in years to come thanks to Charlie McCreevy and your good selves).

"We've worked very hard and the union have worked very hard to keep the players in Ireland," says Leinster CEO Mick Dawson.

"We could be looking at a situation where you go back to what it was like 10 years ago, where most of the best players were playing in England and we were scratching around here.

"That would be very sad; the development of the game would suffer because we wouldn't be able to afford to have as many development officers in the field. The better players obviously have a short window at a career like this and they would go as well."

Hence the 'Save Irish Rugby' campaign so exercising the streets of late. Minister Eamon Ryan may just be waving a populist flag. But if not, to whom could the IRFU and Irish rugby supporters soon be waving goodbye?

1 Brian O'Driscoll

A totemic figure not merely of Irish rugby but talismanic in how Irish rugby and money have been inextricably linked during this golden decade for the game. Flirted with France before and may still opt to play there for a year -- but not until after the next World Cup.

2 Jamie Heaslip

As with the majority on this list, Heaslip would never contemplate leaving these shores until after the World Cup in 2011 -- even if Philip Browne donned a 'Save Irish Rugby' cape and attempted to storm the Dail like a left-wing loony. After 2011? Anything goes. Has said he wants to try the Super 14.

3 Keith Earls

The flights of the Earls has been prominently promulgated in recent dispatches emanating from IRFU HQ. The man who painted a picture of O'Driscoll's hat-trick -- gleaned from terrestrial TV -- might take his own artistry elsewhere should his next deal not prove up to scratch.

4 Luke Fitzgerald

The injured Leinster star has unfortunately too much time on his hands to keep up with this prickly debate. As an international star, he will be like a new signing for Leinster next season. Could he be a new signing for someone else the following season though?

5 Rob Kearney

The man from Cooley who exhibits cool on and off the pitch -- but watch events bristle with red-hot energy should he ever declare his intention to leave Leinster. The South Africans, so in awe of his aerial prowess last summer, would be the first to invite him to eat braai.

6 Paul O'Connell

The Munster captain has been so distracted by injury of late that he has taken to voluntarily reading papers. We learn this fact from his O2 blog, one of several commercial reasons why, like O'Driscoll, the Limerick man would be unwilling to decamp abroad.

7 Stephen Ferris

Would be perfectly suited to the bish-bash so prevalent in the Guinness Premiership. Ferris is tied down to a deal but were the IRFU dosh to dwindle, the big-hitting flanker from an under-performing province wouldn't be blamed for cashing his chips elsewhere.

8 Jonathan Sexton

Ireland's heir to the out-half throne almost left Leinster during what was ultimately the player and team's crowning glory under Michael Cheika last season; expect former RDS favourite Felipe Contepomi and his moneybags Toulon side to keep a watching brief.

9 Sean Cronin

A skimpy one-year deal with a Connacht squad on the verge of extinction offers a road to nowhere because the westerners will be the first to go if Minister Ryan gets his way.

10 Chris Henry

Ulster's peculiarly financial buoyancy despite years of under-achievement has again been illustrated by their expensive capture of the ageing Xavier Rush. Cardiff say he is irreplaceable. Not if Henry went there soon after seeing the writing on the wall.

11 Ronan O'Gara

Has already expressed his desire to make the move to France towards the latter days of his career; may make sense to do so before he retires as only then can he snaffle up Charlie McCreevy's tax breaks.

12 Donncha O'Callaghan

Someone of O'Callaghan's distinctive character and hard-working nature would make a superb addition to any French side -- Racing Metro have a budget close to €20m next year.

13 Fergus McFadden

Fated perhaps to become one of those hardly dispensable list of Irish players who cannot find an in-road to their home province -- or are blocked from moving to any of the other three. May find better expression -- and greenbacks -- elsewhere.

14 John Muldoon

His status will be enhanced by international exposure this summer and, although he declined the chance to move to Leinster before, he may have no option but to move if the Sword of Damocles comes crashing down on his beloved province.

15 Eoin Reddan

Reddan has already had experience of packing his bags and departing for foreign shores to benefit his career; with Isaac Boss already lined up as the newest signing of the incoming Leinster head coach, Reddan would be forgiven for getting a touch of wanderlust once more.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport