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'It just sets a rotten core' - Costello calls for private contract negotiations

The former Leinster and Ireland number eight is concerned that talk of transfers removes focus from the rugby.

VICTOR COSTELLO HAS called on Irish rugby players and their agents to ensure that contract negotiation discussions don’t spill into the public sphere.

The former Leinster and Ireland number eight would prefer to see new deals done within a specific re-contracting timeframe and behind closed doors.

Victor Costello, Malcolm O'Kelly and Paul Wallace Leinster will honour their first-ever Heineken Cup team before the match against Toulon on 19 December. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The likes of Simon Zebo, Ben Te’o, Ian Madigan and several other players have been linked with moves away from their provinces and answered questions on the topic in recent weeks, but Costello feels that is a major distraction from their jobs.

The 39-times capped former back row also worries that players expressing a need to ‘consider all their options’ can negatively impact on the bond between themselves and their teammates out on the pitch.

Ian Madigan has been linked with a move from Leinster to Munster next season, as well as with a number of clubs in England and France, and recently stated that he would have to consider each of the possibilities before making a decision.

Speaking at the Aviva Stadium, Costello underlined that his preference would be for such statements to be avoided and the process to be speeded up out of the public eye.

Everybody needs job security, so if Madigan’s putting on a blue shirt and in six months or he could be wearing a different shirt, it’s not good (right now),” said Costello. “Everyone wants to be settled and playing with people they like to play with, their friends.

“If you look at when Johnny Sexton was negotiating his contract before the 2013 Six Nations, before the first game we were wondering if Johnny was going to be here in six months.

“It’s not good for anyone, everyone needs to be settled in their job and it’s up to the players’ agents to make sure that their clients are not distracted and that they’re going out in the best physical and mental condition they can.

“It can’t be a case where you’re playing and (thinking) this guy is getting X amount more than you are and you’re the same level of player. All of that is a distraction. Now, people need to look after their careers and their pension, all of that, but at the end of the day it’s a contact sport and you need to be focused.”

Ian Madigan Ian Madigan's future is uncertain at present. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The increased wealth of rugby clubs has in turn lead to higher wages within the sport and the transfer market increasingly resembles that of football. While rugby remains a major distance away from the financial might of football, Costello is unhappy about the direction things are heading.

He understands players’ desire to earn themselves the best deals possible, but worries that agents are too focused on playing the provinces off against foreign clubs, therefore “disrupting” the important matter – rugby.

Despite the vital Champions Cup ties for Munster, Leinster and Ulster this weekend, Costello is concerned that more focus has been on which players will and won’t be playing in Ireland next season than on preparation for the games.

Obviously players are going to out their ‘for sale’ signs up and see what’s out there, negotiate with that in their pocket,” said Costello.

“There should be a time of the season, a window where it should be done and dusted by then. If not, forget it until next year. Look, it’s a professional game and people are allowed to maximise their earnings but at the end of the day, if you said to me ‘I’ll give you 100 quid to run through that window’ I’d tell you to F off. If my mate asked me to run through it, and he really needed it, you’d do it.

“That’s what rugby is all about, you’ve got to trust the guys around you, believe in the guys around you. If you’re starting thinking, ‘I’m going, this isn’t happening for me,’ it just sets a rotten core I think, particularly for guys that are wondering if X is going to be here next year and what’s his commitment to us.

“It’s not good for anyone.”

Leinster Rugby will celebrate their first-ever European Cup team, who beat Milan 21 – 24 on 1 November 1995, at half-time when they take on Toulon in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 19 December.

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Murray Kinsella

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