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Sexton: 'I've thought about whether this will be my last year or not'

The Ireland captain says it was ‘gutting’ to miss out on the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.

Ireland and Leinster captain Johnny Sexton is a MACE Brand Ambassador.
Ireland and Leinster captain Johnny Sexton is a MACE Brand Ambassador.

JOHNNY SEXTON SAYS he’s thought about the idea that this could be his last year playing rugby, admitting that he could consider retiring at the end of the 2021/22 season.

The Leinster and Ireland captain has enjoyed an extended break from the game after being stood down from action following a series of head injuries last spring.

Having missed out on selection for the British and Irish Lions tour and being rested for Ireland’s summer Tests, Sexton admits he found himself contemplating the idea that he could be heading into his final year as a professional rugby player. 

“I’ll be honest, over the summer when you get a lot of free time and you don’t have games to focus on and you do have a lot of time to think, I got drawn into thinking ‘Is this my last (season)?’ And I’m trying to get away from that,” Sexton says.

“I’m trying to just focus on the moment, focus on Harlequins (pre-season game) next week, focus on the start of the season and try not to think about what’s next April or May, because ultimately at this age, that’s the time you make these decisions.

“But rugby is such a tough game, if you are planning too far ahead even as a 23 or 24-year-old, one injury in training or in a match can finish you. So I’m trying to focus on the here and now and we’ll make those decisions later on in the year.”

The Leinster and Ireland captain, who signed a one-year contract extension with the IRFU last March, has already started the process of preparing himself for the next chapter of his life. 

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people, more around the preparation for life after rugby and how they dealt with it, because when it means as much – and it means a lot to me – it’s your professional career and you care so much about it, and then it’s just gone in a day.

“A lot of guys have struggled with it over the years, so I’ve spoken to a lot of guys around that. That’s probably the most important thing, how you react to it emotionally and mentally, and then you plan for the future.

“I’m doing a work experience opportunity at the moment, and that’s been great. It’s opened my eyes to the other side of the business world.

And then I’ve thought about whether this will be my last year or not, and like I said, post-Six Nations next year is probably when you go, ‘Ok, how much rugby have I managed to get through this year? How have I played? Am I still getting picked? Do Leinster and Ireland still want me?’

“There are so many things to consider, and at that point I’ll weigh everything up.

“But like I said, you can be finished in an injury so you can’t plan too far ahead, as I found out at the back-end of last year. I’m just trying to make the most of it and enjoy every bit of it.”

Sexton also admitted it was “gutting” to miss out on selection for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, with Warren Gatland voicing concerns over the out-half’s durability.

“At the time I was like a little bit kind of going ‘wow’…I’ve just played four games in the Six Nations,” Sexton says.

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“Yeah, I’d picked up a knock. When you are holding a guy in the tackle and you get a knee in the side of the head there’s nothing you can do or nothing that you can control. 

“Obviously, it was gutting to hear that because I’d worked so hard before and during the Six Nations to stay fit.

“I thought I’d proved that by playing three 80 minutes in a row by the end in consecutive weeks that that maybe would be put to bed. But they went a certain way, I don’t know if that was something that he just said to the media. They went a different way and I have just have to move on and accept it.”

This week MACE Brand Ambassador Johnny Sexton held a training session with the Ardee RFC U14 team, who were selected from the thousands of entries received from all over Ireland in an exclusive MACE competition for the opportunity to win the “money-can’t-buy” training session with the Ireland captain.

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Ciarán Kennedy

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