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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018

'There is a worry. That's the big question for everyone, what are you going to do after?'

Devin Toner visited The42 offices today to discuss life after rugby.

IN A SURVEY conducted by the English Rugby Players’ Association last year, it was revealed the average career span of a professional rugby player is seven to eight years, meaning those who last anything close to a decade can consider themselves lucky.

Now entering his 14th season as a professional, Devin Toner certainly falls into that bracket as the second row has stood the test of time. Not only physically, but in terms of form as his worth both for Leinster and Ireland remains undisputed. 

Devin Toner takes to the field Toner made his first appearance of the season against Scarlets. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Coming through the ranks at his native province with the likes of Leo Cullen, Brad Thorn and Nathan Hines for competition, Toner has always had to work for the jersey, ditto on the international stage in a position where Ireland have always been well-stocked.

The 32-year-old proved his enduring quality throughout last season to feature in all five of Ireland’s Six Nations games en route to a Grand Slam, despite the emergence of James Ryan and the threat he and Iain Henderson posed to Toner’s place in Joe Schmidt’s squad.

With 60 caps to his name, over 200 appearances for Leinster and another big season ahead, Toner shows no sign of slowing down as his remarkable injury profile means he will remain an integral part of any team he is part of for as long as his body allows.

But, at the same time, there is also an appreciation for time and an acknowledgement of the importance of looking ahead, and planning for the future even if he remains fully invested in his professional rugby career.

Through the work of Rugby Players Ireland, there is now huge emphasis placed on developing further skills outside of rugby and putting the building blocks in place to ensure the transition out of the game, when it does eventually arrive, is as smooth as possible.

Speaking to The42 in our Dublin headquarters today, Toner admitted he is not yet sure what direction he wants to go in when the curtain does fall on his glittering career but he has given it some thought.

“You obviously wouldn’t have looked at it as much back in the day but ever since Max [his one-year-old son] arrived as well, you’re kind of looking at the future,” Toner said.

Once you get past 30 you’re looking at it as well. That’s the big question for everyone, what are you going to do after? At the minute I’m not 100% sure. I did finish my degree in UCD in sports management but whether I’ll still be in sports I’ve no idea to be honest. 

“There’s 100% apprehension, yeah. Talking to a lot of lads who have finished in the last couple of years and there is a worry there as well. Obviously you’re not going to be earning as much as you did for a good few years. You do have to put those building blocks in and it is obviously the transition into working life is going to be massively different as well.

“I’ve been a professional rugby player for the last 13 years and it’s hugely different going into a work place. What that work place is I’ve no idea, but it’s going to be a tough time.”

Leinster's Devin Toner and Jordi Murphy  after the match Toner enjoyed a brilliant season with Leinster and Ireland last year. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Toner has seen former team-mates go into different areas — Luke Fitzgerald into banking, Brian O’Driscoll to punditry, Mike Ross to IT and Leo Cullen into coaching, to name just a few — and while he is keeping his options open, going down the coaching route is not something that appeals to him.

“I’ve thought about not doing it,” he continued. “I don’t think coaching would suit me to be honest. I don’t know, there’s just something about it that doesn’t appeal to me.

“You never know, I might end up coaching in a school or an AIL club but I don’t think professional coaching is where I’ll be going.”

On the work Rugby Players Ireland do with setting players up for future careers, Toner explained: “They’re brilliant, the work they do. For the older guys they might get you into a work placement on your day off on a Wednesday, they might get you couple of weeks in a certain industry to see if you like it. And they see what you like and see what you don’t like and steer you from there.

“They set you up with mentors in industries they think you might be good in and are obviously great that way.”

One area Toner might explore is the food industry after his wife, Mary, set up an online marketplace connecting bakers and customers across the country.

“She set up a website — Bakers and Cakers — nearly two years ago now,” Toner added. “It’s going well for her now, she got funding from Enterprise Ireland and it’s going really well for her now.

“Seeing the success she has had does kind of stir me on to maybe try and do something myself. What that is, again, I’m not sure.

“We’re both big into food so if it’s in the food industry, if I want to do my own little cafe or something, you never know. It remains to be seen.”


You can read the full interview with Devin Toner on The42 this Saturday morning ahead of Leinster’s clash with Edinburgh. 

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Ryan Bailey

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