Double Judas

Irish rugby players who go abroad to earn their living generally fall into 2 buckets:

  1. Top class internationals who left at their peak
  2. Those who were not in line for a central contract and were dispensable to their provinces

The former basket consists of Jonny Sexton – Sexton was pissed off at the union’s slow pace of negotiations two years ago, felt insulted at their initial offer and flounced off to (nouveau riche) Racing. Since then, the Union have upped their game, and have kept the likes of DJ Church, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip in Ireland despite strong French interest – and Sexton himself is returning next season. The Sexton move was a game-changer that left no-one happy and has brought about earlier contractual negotiations, longer contracts and private investment with a goal to keeping the international squad based at home. In 2008, Tommy Bowe left Ulster for the Hairsprays, but at that stage his international career had stalled and Ulster were an utter shambles that he wanted out of.

In the second category, there exists various former internationals who were offered a better contract abroad (Tom Court, Tomas O’Leary), journeyman pros (James Downey, Gareth Steenson) and younger players looking for a new start after their careers stalled at home (Chris Farrell, Adam Macklin, James McKinney, Conor Gilsenan, iHumph). In all these cases, they are players who were not mapped internationally and were expendable to the domestic game.

The potential transfer of JJ Hanrahan from Munster to the Saints, as reported by Gerry yesterday, falls into neither of these buckets. Hanrahan is a former underage (schools and under-20) star who is generally seen as the future in the province – he is clearly behind Sexton, Madigan, Jackson and Keatley right now at international level, but has bags of potential and certainly appears to have the skills to grow into a key player for Munster, and maybe Ireland. But it seems he doesn’t see it that way – he seems to feel he is trapped on the bench and not getting adequate opportunities. As Gerry pointed out, last year he started 11 games at outhalf and came off the bench in every HEC game – this year he has started twice and was left kicking his heels while Munster came a cropper in Thomond last week.

Hanrahan is not only playing second fiddle to Ian Keatley, which we can understand at least even if we don’t always agree with it, but being out of the team at the expense of Denis Hurley is quite another matter – Hurley is a good honest pro, but apart from bashing up the middle, doesn’t offer a huge amount in an attacking sense. Hanrahan has been rooted to the bench, but isn’t even getting used as an impact sub, unlike under Penney last year.  It’s been one of the season’s curiosities because, to our eyes at least, Hanrahan has played well when he’s been let on the pitch.

Also since last year, Munster have signed Tyler Bleyendaal, an almost exact replica in positional terms of Hanrahan, Andrew Smith, another bosh it up the middle centre and Pat Howard, a medical joker who got straight into the team. The new head coach, Axel, has talked a good game about moving the ball through the backline and playing creative centres, but has reverted to reductive boshing in the big games – Hanrahan hasn’t got a look in. Being rooted to the bench while Munster trundled the ball backwards against Clermont for 80 minutes must have been galling – he might not have made any difference, but the sight of Plan B being the same as Plan A (bosh it up the middle) must have made him wonder. You sense that Hanrahan just doesn’t fit into Axel’s plans right now.   Much has been made of Hanrahan starting the season with an injury, which restricted his gametime in the early part, but it’s December now.  He played back-to-back games at 15 against Ulster and the Dragons – last we saw of him he was putting in a classy grubber kick for a try against Dragons – but still they wouldn’t let him on against Clermont.

And now Northampton have come sniffing with an offer (apparently £150k) that would dwarf anything Munster could offer, given general debt levels and the fact that he is seen as a reserve – it’s decent wedge for an essentially unproven player. Hanrahan is clearly a young man in a hurry – he is six months younger than his underage team-mate Paddy Jackson, who has been Ulster starter for two and a half years and has nine Ireland caps, and you wonder does Hanrahan compare himself to Wee PJ. Its a slightly different scenario for a number of reasons – PJ was outhalf for the under-20s when both were in the team – and Jackson also captained the side. PJ was coming from a different place, and Ulster coaches couldn’t wait to start him – he debut-ed just a month after turning 19, almost four years ago. Also, the Ulster jersey fell into PJs lap following some rubbishy performances from iHumph in Munster and Connacht in 2012, after which iHumph left the building, leaving Jackson unopposed as starter. This was both a blessing (allowed him to grow into the jersey without serious competition) and a curse (he effectively immediately became the number three outhalf in Ireland and was parachuted into the national team in non-ideal circumstances with non-ideal results).

Axel responded to Gerry’s story and talked about preparation and injury recovery, which is correct and laudable, but then topped it off by saying “we were considering introducing him at inside centre but Denis Hurley made a couple of breaks”. Talk about depressing – if Hanrahan does leave, you have a smoking gun right there – reductive and conservative rugby in the biggest games where a couple of minor breaks (that we must have missed – even ESPN had Hurley carrying just 5 times for 10 metres) as part of an ineffective gameplan trumps the potential to open the game up and run around Clermont instead of at them. After email-gate was classified as careless, letting the Golden Boy leave for want of opportunities would be a bit of an indictment on Axel’s squad management.

If Hanrahan does move, not only is it a disaster for Munster, where Hanrahan looked the most natural backline talent since Anto Horgan Keith Earls, but for Ireland, where the model of keeping young players at home and husbanding them through province (Pro12 then HEC/ERCC) to national training squad to national team is being challenged. Our top youngsters taking off to Northampton is not part of the plan. On the bright side, the Saints would not be paying him £150k a year to sit on the bench and give Stephen Myler hugs – he will be getting paid to play for one of the top teams in a league where he will be directly facing some excellent players – game managers like Nuck Evans and “Faz”, creative talents as George Ford, Charlie Hodgson and Danny Cipriani, and also potentially Jimmy Gopperth, who recently killed Bambi.

If he does leave, the best case is that Hanrahan wins the Saints starting jersey and is playing in a team potentially better than any Irish province, and who will be challenging for domestic and European silverware. Joe Schmidt cannot ignore him, he gets called up for Ireland and levers that into a bumper central contract and comes home as Munster starter in 2/3 years. Or, he does a Geordan Murphy and settles down and spends his career in England – his form demands selection and he picks up 50+ caps over a long career. Going further down the outcome chain, he does what a previous Munster prodigy did and spends his career in the Premiership without ever nailing down a place in the Ireland squad – the Jeremy Staunton path. Worst case, he can’t get shirt, sets his career back two years and limps home with his tail between the legs having stalled in his development – this is probably unlikely, he’s clearly talented and ambitious.

This career path is a little bit of an unknown, and carries risks for Irish rugby’s professional development model, but that’s not Hanrahan’s concern – he feels like he has more to offer and isn’t getting the chances at Munster. Nothing’s done yet, and he could yet sign on for Munster.  This could all have a happy ending, but even then, it has shone a spotlight on a curious unwillingness to embrace talent over the mundane.

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63 Comments

  1. Anyone hear Keith Wood’s annoyance at Gerry last night on OTB for daring to suggest any faults with Axel? Funny stuff, considering how down on Penney Wood was.

    • ORiordan

       /  December 11, 2014

      Yeah, it was really quite funny that Wood bristled so much at Gerry’s “face doesn’t fit comment”! Wood clearly is somewhat touchy when it comes to even implied criticism of his old mate.

      • mohill11

         /  December 11, 2014

        Ah yes, the denizens of Killaloe sticking together at all costs.
        It’s way too early in Foley’s reign to be calling crisis, but if it does transpire that Hanrahan is lost and Munster exit before the QF’s in the HEC, then there really will be a problem.

      • Declan

         /  December 11, 2014

        I must say I had a chuckle when I heard ‘I don’t appreciate that comment’. Does this confirm he’s Axels representative on earth (or media anyway)?!?

      • Leinsterlion

         /  December 11, 2014

        Irish rugby politics at its finest.. Oi johnny foreigner you are fair game, but dont dare criticise the inner circle..

  2. Yossarian

     /  December 11, 2014

    Foley keeps saying what a quality player JJ is. Then play him!it’s like he doesn’t see how to play him within the conservative approach.
    If he picks him now V Claremont it looks like he has reacted to the news. It is lose lose for Foley.

  3. ruckinhell

     /  December 11, 2014

    No comment on the fact that JJ is a Fintan Drury client, the bane of the IRFU re negotiations? http://www.platinumonegroup.com/rugby/

    This is perfect timing to drop the media line regarding JJ’s offers from Northampton, smack dab in the middle of a mini-crisis for management. While much of what you outline is correct, I think there needs to be a bit of critical thinking as to the how and why this story was suddenly leaked and the timing of leaking in particular. Maybe JJ is annoyed about lack of gametime. Maybe he is frustrated at his lack of development and progress. Or maybe his Mr. 10% is playing his role perfectly and looking after the Benjamins for his client? All of the reporting so far has taken the fact that JJ is going for personal rugby reasons at face value, whereas there is a very real commercial and financial element to this saga. I’m not saying that it’s all about the money in this case but you can’t ignore this element- rugby is a sport, but it’s also a business.

    • ORiordan

       /  December 11, 2014

      Good point. Sitting on the bench behind Keats and honest Denis won’t do much for the value of a player.

    • Some good points made about the veracity of this whole thing.

  4. Even with Clermont pushing us all over the park and Honest Denis bashing up the middle, it defies reason that Axel could not see his way to putting JJ on. He might not have won us the game, but then Plan A wasn’t winning it either. Does that mean, irrespective of what Axel says, the game plan will be a reductive one dimensional type. If that’s the case then the sooner JJ signs for the Saints the better.

    • Amiga500

       /  December 11, 2014

      “Does that mean, irrespective of what Axel says, the game plan will be a reductive one dimensional type.”

      Traditional Munster values (since circa 2000) of pashun and intensuty.

  5. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  December 11, 2014

    20 years ago when the game went pro the English clubs came a-calling and the top young Irish players were heading over to £30-35K a year and a Rover 600. 20 years later £150K p.a. for one of Ireland’s brightest young talents ‘dwarfs’ anything that can be earned here. (As a reference Madigan trebled his salary from €80 to €240K when Johnny left). The sad fact is that given the explosion in popularity of rugby in Ireland (with the Aviva and at least three provincial venues regularly filling out for the big games) the players are not getting a reward that merits their talents & the inherent risks of it all ending in an instant. This is not necessarily anybody’s fault but it leads me to conclude that JJ should follow the money and as a career path pro rugby in Ireland is big on risk (postponing a long term career path to follow the dream) and not so big on reward.

    • The biggest single obstacle to the development of the game in Ireland is the conservative/risk averse nature of what is defined as professionalism in Irish rugby. Youth rugby appears to be about redirecting talent to rugby schools and providing local youth with the opportunity to play. However development in no way seems concerned why they not are attracting the best athletes or footballers from the local talent pool? What are the incentives that draw the best youth athletes to other codes of football and other sports?

    • Amiga500

       /  December 11, 2014

      Balls. You go down that road and you are in the soccer premiership.

      The IRFU are responsible to and for a lot more than just the professional players.

  6. ORiordan

     /  December 11, 2014

    … just thinking about your categories of players who left for England, Gareth Steenson wasn’t even offered a contract with Ulster (name and shame: Alan Clarke was behind this, allegedly)

    Steenson isn’t a world beater and wouldn’t have been a serious challenger for Ireland jersey, but when I think of Ulster lining up with NOC or James McKinney at number 10, I still shudder…

    iHumph is a flake, albeit he can produce some sparks of inspiration, but Steenson as a percentage player would have seen Ulster winning more games, I think.

    • Ulster have consistently over promoted aspiring indigenous coaches and they have cut their coaching teeth very publicly. Do not understand how Shane Logan does not see the trend of the exits of Mark McCall and David Humphreys? Would it not be better for these coaches to their mistakes at English or French clubs before aspiring to coach Ulster ?

  7. From JJ’s point of view, I’d leg it!! Getting a much better wage, for a better team, in a better league, where you’ll actually play games. No reason he couldn’t come back in 2 years and benefit Ireland and Munster. From a

    Does he have an attitude problem or something, why won’t Foley pick him ? Especially with the dross ahead of him.

  8. D6W

     /  December 11, 2014

    I don’t think Munster or IRFU should be too worried about this “alleged” offer. Considering google does not show any english paper picking up on it, and even BBC sports Northamptons Saints sports feed does not mention it. Not to mention Saints would not release details of Mylers package, so could hardly be pleased if a Hanrahan offer was made public.

    It is shameful that Gerry allows himself to be used as Drury’s PR negotiating tool! A real journo would have done some digging before reporting that.

  9. connachtexile

     /  December 11, 2014

    A big indictment of Foley is if you look up the road at Connacht and see Pat Lam backing young Jack Carty. Lam could have played the more experienced Miah Nikora or the more Goppereth like Craig Ronaldson but instead he has stuck by Carty who has grown into the role. Admittedly he still is nowhere the finished product yet but seeing another Irish coach at a neighbouring club giving a younger player a chance while Hanrahan can’t even get on the field for a fairly limited player like Hurley in my opinion shows that Foley is either to scared or to conservative to back youth.Either one is a major failing in a coach.
    (The same could easily be said with MOC and Madigan).

  10. With the rugby Munster have played in recent weeks (which has been successful) what’s the need for a second playmaker? Foley clearly sees Keatley as his man. I think JJ should go. Will his development really be worse in England, given he barely plays here?

    Quick straw poll (for both Munster fans and others): all else being equal would you rather Foley or Rob Penney was coach?

    • connachtexile

       /  December 11, 2014

      penney

    • I’d rather Foley had learned more from Penney during the two years he spent as his assistant coach. Munster play like there has been a deliberate purge of the Penney era, like anything he tried to implement is prohibited, is taboo.

    • ruckinhell

       /  December 11, 2014

      Both have strengths and weaknesses. Penney was very attached to a game plan that worked for him in Canterbury but which seemed not to really suit the skillsets of our players. Foley has his one game style and it doesn’t seem that he’s overly fond of changing it up based on the opposition. Penney was happy to rotate players and give out gametime to all. Foley is sticking with his first choice for the big games. Whatever way you boil it down, it depends on the results, if Munster are winning the coach is doing it right (Foley from the Leinster match up to last Saturday afternoon), if they are losing it’s the coaches fault and not the players who are brave and faithful and proud and passionful. I think the players need to cop a lot of flack for Saturday’s loss- the gameplan may have been rigid and unsuitable for Clermont but I don’t think it was Foley’s coaching that resulted in 4 knock-ons or dropped balls in mauls, overthrown balls and easy reads in the lineout for the opposition.

      I liked Penney and some of the media treatment of him was disgraceful. We like taking pot shots at the English media but the Irish rugby media is for the most part a craven, sycophantic group of lick-spittles who are loath to lose their inside line. Apart from Franno, but he’s just batshit mental. That’s not to say that Foley doesn’t have his merits but I think this gig came a year or two too early.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  December 11, 2014

        Spot on, on the media comments, it doesnt apply to sports, it the media in general tough. Just heard Hook and some other goon on the way home berating the water protesters for protesting for water and not against the nursing home stuff( that came out few days ago), bizarre stuff.

      • TipperaryLad

         /  December 12, 2014

        craven, sycophantic group of lick-spittles….. what a marvellous description

    • osheaf01

       /  December 11, 2014

      Penney. I’m disturbed that Foley’s learning on the job is going to cost us any chance of winning anything for a while.

    • No-one saying AF? I’d go for Penney as well. Henry, I agree about your purge point. Perhaps Foley will build in a bit more variety? Guess time will tell.

    • red*razors

       /  December 13, 2014

      penney, in a heartbeat.

  11. Declan

     /  December 11, 2014

    ‘also potentially Jimmy Gopperth, who recently killed Bambi.’
    That right there is the greatest line every written about Irish rugby!

    • Is a good line on a good article alright, but I still like the mole’s line about Nathan Hines. Something like : ‘no-one has ever had a bad word to say about him. Except Eddie, who accused him of attempted murder.’

      • Henry Honiball Fan Club

         /  December 12, 2014

        Agreed, it’s right up there in the pantheon of epic quotes, now we just need to see if it has the staying power of Moles “Leinster fed Bath a fifty-burger”

  12. There’s one other option you don’t mention in your conclusion – JJ arrives in the UK, loves the rugby, the money, the attention and lifestyle, and decides to declare for England after 3 years in the hopes of maximising his earnings and possibly through some pressure from either the club or RFU. While there aren’t many (any?) recent Irish players that have done this its not impossible considering England’s recent recruitment to the national team and also the monetary constraints on playing numerous NEQ/monetary gain for clubs playing English internationals.
    While it may seem a little far fetched now, its not currently any more fantastical than JJ’s chances of nailing down an Ireland shirt, and while 3 years is a long time its not clear that England will have fixed their fly half troubles by then. If he does leave it will obviously be on the back of ill feeling between himself and his province, and a new start like that has been followed by many other sportsmen in the past who then commit to their new home nation.

  13. A return to Munster values and tradition, BOSH!!!!
    If that return means losing a potential future Ireland number 10 and the only one produced by Munster since ROG its a travesty.

  14. Assuming this isn’t negotiation by press release (yes, big assumption), we have a talented player who has yet (even under the previous coaching regime before anyone blames Foley) to tie down a starting XV spot for his province about to try his luck abroad.

    On a sliding scale from “What were they thinking, in hindsight?” (Trevor Brennan, Jonny O’Connor) via One-Eyebrow-Raised (Eoin Griffin, Roger Wilson) down to “Meh” (Niall Morris, Danny Barnes), I’m struggling to raise half an eyebrow here.

    Whether he leaves or not, isn’t the real issue that, despite strong tradition, good funding, and good player numbers, Munster only manage to develop an international standard back every three to four years?

  15. Rava

     /  December 11, 2014

    One of the problems we have in Irish Rugby and a product of the success of our Academies has been the production of some very talented young players. Another problem is we only have four professional teams. There cannot be limitless Central Contracts.
    JJ making a decision on his future is something we should get used to. It will happen on a far more regular basis as the conveyor belt continues to churn them out.
    What if Sexton hadn’t left Leinster? Would Madigan, without the hike in salary, have stayed around? Will the queue for the 12 jersey at Ulster signal a move for one of Olding, McCloskey or Marshall?
    I firmly believe we are at the tip of the iceberg just now. If JJ does go, more will follow.

    • Munstermicko

       /  December 11, 2014

      Its that Dubland hoore Fintin messing about again. JJ should have stayed the munster path and stayed with Frankie like the rest of us. Ye get bigged up on sky and pick up man of the match award to boot.

      Just be sure to treat frankie to a few pints in Flannerys after de match and buy him a few lollypops and he’s your man.

      I still think me and the boys will cook us up a few yellow mashmallows in the Stad MashmellowMan o Sunday after all.

    • There is no queue for 12 jersey at Ulster. McCloskey and Olding are injured, not sure if Marshall will play at Scarlets. The conveyor belt is faulty. Whoever at the IRFU programmed it needs to be downsized. It has been producing outside backs at Ulster but no backrow or frontrow. No outside backs at Munster for a few years and front rows and back rows at Leinster like theres no tommorrow. They brought an engineer in, funny name…..Nucifora they called him who charged an enormous call out fee. Anyway he looked at it, started to tutt, then mumbled something about a spare part then disappeared and nobody has heard from him since. That was three months ago and the conveyor belt is no better and anyway that Nucifora seems onto a good thing.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  December 11, 2014

      I would debate the “success” of our academies. Not much joined up thinking.

  16. Andrew097

     /  December 11, 2014

    Should go for the lids he will learn nothing about playing ten in Munster that is not kicking it into the corner.

  17. curates_egg

     /  December 12, 2014

    It seems he is staying: http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/european-cup/munster-now-favourites-to-retain-jj-hanrahan-s-services-1.2034832

    Another Fintan Drury contract negotiation via the press. Whatever about the rag of disrepute, it is unedifying of Thornley to continue to publish this stuff. It undermines the profession of journalism to let it be abused as a commercial service.

    • Yep – got to agree with that. For some reason (maybe because he writes such drivel) I had assumed Cummiskey was the Drury conduit in times past .. you’d expect more from Gerry

      • Roundy

         /  December 12, 2014

        Didnt Gerry need an exclusive. Was’nt it Wardy in the rag indo who had the exclusive on Henshaw & Payne for Ireland game.

        • curates_egg

           /  December 12, 2014

          Contract negotiations are not journalism. This story was muck and not an exclusive. He printed what an agent wanted him to print to serve the interest of that agent and his client. It is a stain on the profession of journalism.

          • D6W

             /  December 12, 2014

            Hear, Hear. How the editor allows such PR blurb to be unquestioningly published is shameful.

          • ORiordan

             /  December 12, 2014

            Sure if it wasn’t for agents plugging their players in the media, there’d be nobody talking about them. Frankie and Ryan Constable, I’m looking at you…

  18. Munster must have upped their game to the Northampton figure.

  19. Hope he stays but for his own development I think he should go. Gametime is what he needs at this stage of his career.
    However if he does go he will have to deal with the great white hope and the reason that England will win the world cup in 2015 #slamminsam

    We will see how he does tonight!
    You have got to laugh

  20. Wrong link in previous post apologies. x factor video in below link
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/30426230

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