March 12, 2016

Leaving rugby

Irish prop Cian Healy has found time for art during his rugby career. It will be great to see his art when he has more time after his life in rugby
Jim O’Callaghan is a Dublin city councillor and former Leinster rugby player, he wrote an article in the Village Magazine decrying the change in grassroots rugby: ‘Rugby surrendered its social benefit’. Irish rugby is now about achievement and excellence rather than participation and enjoyment he said. He wrote that sociologists and social historians of the future will examine the change in participation in rugby in Ireland over the past twenty years.
Fergus Slattery wrote in the Irish Times that amateur rugby in Ireland and Britain will be wiped out unless an amateur charter is introduced. Read my article in the Village Magazine here which is a response to Jim O'Callaghan, "Professionalism sidelines the near-brilliant who won't do second best."

Many young men leave rugby in their late teens and early twenties after falling short of the pro-game. Where young men used to abound at amateur rugby clubs, this demographic has contracted as they have swapped playing for spectating. Rugby is turning into the NFL.

A report found that early specialisation can lead to an early exit from the game:
"Children who specialize early are at a far greater risk for burnout due to stress, decreased motivation and lack of enjoyment."
Ronan O’Gara said Star-struck teenagers may never recover from pinning all their hopes and dreams of lining out in Croke Park or the Aviva Stadium. Alan Quinlan said far too much pressure is applied in schools rugby. He wrote in the Irish Times:
"I was at Crescent Comprehensive College in Limerick one day a couple of weeks back, bringing the Six Nations trophy around with John Hayes. What I couldn’t get over on the day was the atmosphere in the school. There was a real despondency in the air. When I found out the reason behind the gloom was that they’d just been knocked out of the Munster Schools Cup by Glenstal Abbey, I couldn’t believe it."
But that is not to say that unmet rugby dreams does not bring pain and mourning. We know that life after rugby for the rugby professional can be traumatic, as I have outlined below. But I believe that it can be just as raw for the ambitious schoolboy or amateur who never quite made it.

Donnie Macfadyen spoke about the black dog of depression that stalked his life after rugby. The sports market is capricious. Former rugby union players Will James and Damian Hopley shared their experience of exiting the game.

Denis Leamy left rugby at 30 due to a hip injury. He said in autumn 2012, speaking with the Limerick Leader:
"Being honest, there is nothing like playing. It is different being at the other side of the line. But I am getting a good buzz out of it [coaching] at the moment. They are a good bunch of lads and seem to have responded well. With Mikey, ‘Paco’ (Fitzgerald) and Gar (Gearoid Prendergast), it is really, really enjoyable. Hopefully we are in for a good season."
Denis continued:
"Being honest, I didn’t miss pre-season at all. But it is difficult. I haven’t seen too many of the games live, but I have recorded all of the games. I watch them when I get a chance. You do get a bit of an ache in the stomach when you see the boys playing. It is difficult and it will take time I am sure. Anyone I spoke to says it is a process that takes time."
Tom Rees said:
"I wouldn’t like to play at a level below what I want. My mind would send me into rucks as hard as ever but the body would come out a lot slower."
The 15 England capped player also said:
"Saying it hurts when I see England doing so well in the Six Nations sounds melodramatic but I do get pangs. Going to the first Wasps game this season was really tough and there was the thought, ‘I should be out there doing that’. However, starting the [medicine] course has made it easier."
Peter Stringer said:
"When the anthems were being sung, that was pretty strange. It was pretty emotional. It’s weird because I still feel I’m good enough, I still have that passion. Enjoy it? I don’t know if I did. The result was great but I don’t think I was able to sit down, relax and enjoy it."
Jonny Wilkinson said:
"When you’re not out there hitting tackle shields, or getting bruised and battered and blowing out your lungs, you feel that you should be. You feel that you’re not paying the price. And I find that hard. You’re used to waking up every morning and saying: ‘I want to pay the price.’ I love paying the price. It makes my life tick. When you’re not, you feel that your worth and value disappears a little bit."

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