Saturday 23 November 2019

Why it's a bad move for Irish rugby

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

The rumour had been doing the rounds for some days but given the many positive vibes emanating from the Sportsground we in our sweet innocence thought it was just that... a rumour.

Mike McCarthy isn't just another Connacht player, he is the heartbeat of their side. He will be replaced. Players come and players go. Such is the nature of the trade but this transfer, added to the background and timing, leaves a particularly bad taste.

The big lock's move to Leinster is good for the eastern province, no question about that, but for Connacht, working so hard to establish itself, it is a kick in the teeth. How adding to the strength of our strongest province (Ulster might argue the toss on that one) to the further detriment of our weakest fits under the guise of what's best for Irish rugby is beyond me.

The nub of the problem is in the term 'development'. If it means cherry-picking their best players (as is clearly now the case) what chance have Connacht of ever establishing themselves on an even keel with the rest?

The Sportsground is unrecognisable from what it once was. Those charged with running the professional game in the west are doing everything being asked of them but once any of the 'big three' spring a leak the best available fix in 'development land' is commandeered to plug it rapidly. It is quite frankly soul-destroying. If that is the principle then the principle stinks.

Jamie Hagan, Fionn Carr, Sean Cronin and Ian Keatley are just some of those of more recent vintage to serve their western apprenticeships before moving on to supposedly bigger and better things. Not even full international Cronin (pictured) could be described as a first-team player at Leinster, which begs the obvious question: would one or all not have been better served staying put?

From the player's perspective it is a difficult dilemma, particularly for McCarthy who, at 31, sees this as a heaven-sent opportunity to win some silverware and at the same time establish himself as a first-choice second-row with one of the superpowers of European and world rugby.

There is also security of tenure in terms of a three-year contract that will probably take the London-born former Wasp to the end of his playing career.

In that respect, for him, at the end of his second spell at Connacht (embracing over 100 appearances), it is a no-brainer.

However, for the life of me I cannot understand the timing of this announcement. Why now, on the eve of Connacht travelling to Biarritz for perhaps the most important game in the province's history?

Even a week on in the break between rounds two and three of this season's competition would have been preferable.

For Leinster, it provides a psychological boost ahead of their French showdown with Clermont, whereas for Connacht it is a downer ahead of setting out for Biarritz and everything that foreign challenge entails.

In a sense there is no good time, but for McCarthy and indeed for everyone involved, yesterday's confirmation is a revelation they could well have done without.

I emphasise again that every player, even one as committed and mature as McCarthy, will be replaced. It comes with the territory. But the timing of this pending transfer and the nature of it has highlighted the need for the governing body here to re-assess its relationship with Connacht.

As of now the game in the west is getting a bum deal. I wish McCarthy had stayed, but whatever else in this instance don't blame the player.

Irish Independent

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