Leinster second row Devin Toner. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
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'I'm excited for what's going to happen. There's obviously a bit of fear as well'

Devin Toner is looking forward to life post-rugby after announcing his decision to retire at the end of the season.

A WIDE SMILE stretches across Devin Toner’s face as he’s asked to select some stand-out memories from an outstanding career in the green of Ireland and blue of Leinster.

He raises a hand and begins to count with his fingers.

“There is a lot to pick from, which is a sign of a good career,” Toner says.

“You can’t look past the 2018 season, the double with Leinster, Europe and the League; that’s probably my favourite European Cup as well because that’s the one in which I played the most. I started all the games and started the final so that’s my favourite Leinster career highlight.

“Ireland, I can’t look past the Grand Slam (2018) but I think Chicago (2016) as well was an unbelievable occasion, beating the All Blacks for the first time. Again my first Six Nations win in 2014 in the Stade de France was huge as well. That was my first time starting over there with Ireland and to win the Six Nations in that fashion was pretty awesome. Looking back, Chicago was such a savage weekend because it all came together.”

devin-toner Toner during Leinster training on Monday. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

He resists the temptation to keep listing the achievements, but there’s plenty to pick from. Three Six Nations titles, four Heineken Cups, one Challenge Cup and seven league titles. Along the way he also become the most-capped player in Leinster history, a table on which he currently stands 19 games clear at the top on 276 caps.

That figure will stop rising at the end of the season as the big second row walks away from a club he’s called home for almost two decades.

“It’s exciting, I suppose,” Toner says of his decision to retire at the end of the current campaign. 

“I think I’ve probably known about it for a while now. I think obviously with Covid over the last two years, or last year’s contracting cycle, I think I got a contract by the skin of my teeth for this year.

“So I kind of always had it in the back of my mind that it was probably going to be my last year. Obviously there would have maybe been options to go somewhere else, but I think it’s very much a time where I need to put the focus back on my family and kind of give them a bit of support.

“I’ve been with my missus for 16 years, and she’s been there through everything. It’s not really seen, what the families go through, so I’m really looking forward to getting some family time and giving back to them a little bit.

And I’m excited for what’s going to happen. There’s obviously a bit of fear as well. There’s always a fear of the unknown. People say that you’re kind of institutionalised when you’re in professional sport because you’re told where to be or what to wear or what time you are doing what, so it’s going to be a bit different, but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”

Toner is currently doing his QFAs ahead of a move into the world of finance. He doesn’t see a return to club rugby on the cards, but isn’t ruling out a coaching role somewhere at amatuer level.

First though, he’ll take a step back from the game and allow himself time to adjust to his new life.

“I had a chat with Fergus McFadden and had a chat with Mike McCarthy, and all the lads have said it (retirement) obviously is a challenge, but once you get your ducks in a row and do stuff while you’re still playing, it should be smoother than usual.

“I’ve been doing a bit in the background as well, so I’m fairly happy in the direction I’m going.”

andrew-porter-devin-toner-cj-stander-josh-van-der-flier-jacob-stockdale-and-jordan-larmour Toner won the last of his 70 caps for Ireland in February 2020. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Whatever way the rest of Leinster’s season pans out, Toner will bow out on a high. At 35, he remains an important player for the province, featuring 10 times this season. It wasn’t always thus.

Toner had to be patient in the early days of his career. He made his Leinster debut in 2006, but had to wait four months for cap number two. He won just four caps the following season and six the year after, before his big breakthrough finally arrived in the 2008/09 campaign.

His Ireland career followed a similar path. Toner won three caps in 2010 but wouldn’t add to those until 2013. He finished up on 70 Test caps, the last of which came under Andy Farrell in the 2020 Six Nations.

He hopes to add more silverware before the summer, with Leinster well-placed in both the URC and Champions Cup.

I was asked why would I want to do it (retire) now and I’m kind of like, I wanted to get it out of the way. I realised there’s obviously a lot more rugby to play this year. I didn’t want there to be any distractions at the end of the year.

“I’m going to try and add value where I can or when Leo wants me. I know there’s a good few young lads knocking on the door this year.

“You look at someone like Joe McCarthy, who is playing a blinder in every game he plays and you’ve obviously got Ross Molony who is playing the best rugby of his career. I think he’s starting to become a real leader in the team. You’ve obviously got James Ryan, you’ve got Ryan Baird, but there is a lot of rugby to be played.

“I will be on call whenever Leo (Cullen) needs me to do what he wants. Hopefully I’ll be a part of it.”

A new episode of The Front Row, in partnership with Guinness, is out now. After Ireland’s Triple Crown win, Murray Kinsella gives us the rundown on his team of the tournament. Ireland international Sene Naoupu also joins the panel to chat about her career and look ahead to the start of the Women’s Six Nations. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

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