VARIETY IS THE spice of life, never more obviously than in the case of Eoghan Hickey.
The Dublin native’s career has seen him play for Leinster, Munster, London Irish, Worcester, Wasps, Petrarca in Italy and now Parisian-based outfit Massy.
Here is a professional rugby player whose outlook on the sport is far from the norm, and wholly refreshing. The 32-year-old has made a successful passage in a game that has spat out countless victims, and his journey has largely been on his own terms.
“I’ve been lucky with locations, but I’ve been quite picky with where I’ve gone,” says Hickey. “As soon as I realised, ‘I’m not going to play for the Lions,’ it partly became about where I wanted to live.
“It’s not just a quest of rugby; you’ve got to look at the money, the rugby the club plays, and you want to look at the location. Ever since I accepted I’m not going to play for the Lions, I just kept on studying, getting degree after degree.
I picked places based on where I wanted to study as well. London was great for my first Master’s and now I’m in one of the top business schools in Paris. Rugby is a part of it, but it’s not the full picture.”
Hickey is heading into his third season with Massy, a relatively long stay with one club. Despite his strong individual form, the club were relegated from the Pro D2 in the out-half’s first year in Paris, before gaining instant promotion back up from Fédérale 1 last season.
The Ireland ‘A’ international moved to Massy from the “chaos” of Italian rugby, where he spent a season keeping Petrarca competitive in the Super 10 league while living close to Venice.
Among Hickey’s list of academic credentials are a Bachelor of Science degree from UCD and a Master of Science degree from Brunel London, while 2015 should see him become a Master of Business Administration at the prestigious HEC Paris.
Studying alongside the demands of pro rugby is something Hickey adapted to without hesitation.
“It’s hard, but I think it’s just called living your life. I don’t know what person ever says their job is easy. If it is easy then it’s probably a crap job, to be perfectly honest. I just think it’s natural and normal,” says Hickey.
If Felipe Contepomi can play Heineken Cup and international rugby and be studying medicine, or Jamie Roberts can play for the Lions and Wales while studying medicine, it’s not that hard for others.
“It’s great to have that escapism. If you don’t have something to fall back on, it’s harder to keep that mental equilibrium. Guys who put all their eggs in one basket, I fear for them.”
For now, however, the playmaker is in pre-season ahead of Massy’s return campaign in the increasingly competitive Pro D2.
Having seen the success of Stade Français and Racing Métro in recent times, Massy have a five-year plan to earn Top 14 status. That means increased investment compared to their last stint in the pro leagues.
“The average wages in Pro D2 can be €5,000-€6,000 a month net, with a house and a car,” explains Hickey. “It’s probably like being on around €140,000 back in Ireland on a gross level.
“You can do pretty well and my MBA is looked after by the club. You can earn quite a lot more than a lot of the lower echelon in Leinster, for example, several multiples of it. It’s a place that a lot of Irish guys could do well.”
Hickey admits to having “a love/hate relationship” with rugby, and came close to walking away from the game before joining Massy.
I’ve had two surgeries on my back at this stage, so I’m not mad keen to ruin my body entirely. I finish my MBA next April, and the plan was to move into the real world without taking such a massive drop in income.
“It’s a pleasure to play rugby and I feel lucky doing it, but it’s just a means to pay for my life at the moment. I’m not in France to play rugby per se; I’m actually in France to do my MBA and rugby pays for it.
“Rugby is not going to dictate my life decisions. I don’t want to stay at the party too long. However, I’ve been around the block and sometimes, suddenly, a very good offer can pop out of the woodwork.”