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'It's important the public know the IRFU pay well' -- O'Gara

Ronan O’Gara stresses that money shouldn’t be everything for a player, but there’s a fair chunk on offer for men like Peter O’Mahony to stay at home.

RONAN O’GARA HAS first-hand experience on two sides of the triangular stand-offs that are contract negotiations for Ireland’s rugby players.

He’s been the game, he’s been the poacher and someday he will probably be the gamekeeper too.

With speculation mounting around negotiations for Peter O’Mahony’s future, O’Gara last week cast a heavy amount of scepticism on the notion “that anyone can rock up to the Top 14 and earn €500,000 a year.”

Clearly, O’Mahony is not just anyone, he is an exceptionally talented blindside who marked himself as a natural leader long before he was named Munster captain at 23, or led the Lions at 27.

Peter O'Mahony Source: James Crombie/INPHO

However, having been on the other side of these bidding wars, O’Gara knows that the IRFU have more than just the reduced workload of the player management programme to offer their star names – though the value of that isn’t easily discounted either.

“It’s important for the public to know too that the IRFU pay well,” the outgoing Racing 92 defence coach said at TV3′s Six Nations launch in Dublin yesterday.

“I firmly believe that. And I actually probably know that, because I know what I’m talking about from the French and Irish markets.”

While the bottom line salary figure is rarely a straight shoot-out the IRFU can win against with the bigger spenders of the Premiership and Top14, there are supplemental commercial and sponsor sums which Irish players can avail of at home. Such a stream may be difficult to replicate with a lower public profile in a much bigger pool of athletes.

In O’Mahony’s case, The42 understands that the Munster captain, even on his current deal this season, could earn a figure that is more than competitive with the round number O’Gara offered out as a mere example above. And, while there are undoubtedly six-figure sums available for Dan Carter or Charles Piutau from Racing and Bristol, clubs like David Humphreys’ Gloucester and Vern Cotter’s Montpellier have distanced themselves from links to O’Mahony and CJ Stander respectively.

“If they (the IRFU) weren’t (paying well) I think everyone would be playing in France, that’s the reality,” the future Crusaders coach adds.

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Ronan O'Gara and Dan Carter before the game Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The problem for the union is that their sources of income are finite because they rely primarily on ticket revenue from international matches in the Aviva Stadium. In 2017 there were five Tests on Lansdowne Road, in 2018 there will be six – and the realistic scope for growing that number is restricted to one weekend in early November. Last month’s sell-out of the mid-series Test against Fiji was a first against a Tier 2 nation, so ticket revenue is rising. Just not quite fast enough to stay in line with player costs.

Away from the grubby matters of finance, for O’Gara, there is a very important intangible benefit to staying on home turf that he hopes will take hold of this generation of Irish players as much as it did for his own.

“All the players from the team I played on and won European Cups (with) had offers to go as well for far more money. Is that what creates a massive identity with that teams and the supporters?

“There is something incredibly great about playing with your home team and achieving. And I can understand that you might want to do something else, but it’s disappointing say that (Simon) Zebo hasn’t won something with Munster because that’s what it’s about here.”

O’Gara feels the time will come again when an overseas-based player will play for Ireland, but he would dearly love the provincial game to thrive with the collective will of their best and brightest.

“It wasn’t a financial decision for Simon Zebo to leave (to O’Gara’s current employers), he wanted a different challenge and we all have to respect that as it’s his decision. That’s the way he’s always been, he’s been a little bit different. But I think we definitely need key figures to stay with the province if they are to be successful.”

Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

“It’s really important we don’t lose the core reason why we play the game.

“If you grew up in Cork or Limerick you played for Munster, if you grew up in Dublin you play for Leinster. If we dilute that, we’re going to lose an awful lot of our identity. These players have to decide what they want to do and when they want to do it, it’s very much an individual decision.

“You can’t put a value on your reputation because when you finish playing you still have a huge reputation. You only have one reputation that stays with you after your playing days.

Top players in this country, I hope they realise how great it is to be playing as a one club man. I think there is something extremely special about that.

“But I understand the environment and the finances and everything is changing. But, sometimes far away hills aren’t always greener.

“You could all of a sudden strike a cracking deal if you get (a foreign club) on a good day. Every player tests the market, they are all out there looking to get better deals. That happens and it has always happened.”

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Sean Farrell

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