Peter Bills: Rugby must move on, just like Geraghty
Tuesday 21 April 2009
Much bad blood appears to have been spilled over the move of talented threequarter Shane Geraghty from London Irish to Northampton.
Headlines such as 'Geraghty gets farewell blast' and 'Geraghty's sour farewell' filled some of the rugby media pages in the last 72 hours.
London Irish are peeved that a player they spent years nurturing and developing through their Academy structure has, at just 22 and almost certainly with his best years ahead of him, decided to leave the club.
Undoubtedly, the fact that Northampton dangled a juicy contract in front of him, worth a reputed £550,000 over two years, had a major part to play in Geraghty's decision.
London Irish coach Toby Booth made little attempt to hide his feelings. “I knew this was coming but it is still disappointing. We were not prepared to be held over a barrel in terms of financial demands. It's always disappointing when a home grown player decides to leave for non-playing reasons, given the resources the club has invested in developing him. It cannot be a purely rugby decision.”
Now I'm not alone in rating Booth as one of the most promising coaches emerging in English rugby. He took over from Brian Smith when the Australian joined England and has made the transition seamlessly from No. 2 to the guy in charge. He should go far in the game.
But Booth misunderstands the game and most players in it if he really believes that loyalty, the word he hints at so strongly although never mentions, still has a part to play in professional rugby.
Rugby union cannot have it both ways. It can't abandon the old amateur ethos and rush headlong into the arms of professionalism, as it has done, and then expect some of the old game's quaint little ways to survive. It's like happily driving a luxurious car along billiard-table smooth motorways at the same time as bemoaning the fact that your milk is no longer delivered by horse and cart each morning. Life isn't like that.
Should Shane Geraghty be forced to slouch off to Northampton in shame, shoulders hunched and coat collar turned up, not against the bitter wind but the bitter invective that seems likely to accompany his final weeks as an Exiles player? Not in my book.
Geraghty made a professional decision in a professional sport. He got a better offer elsewhere and he decided to accept it. Can any of us, hand on hearts, say that we wouldn't quite possibly do exactly the same thing if we were in his position? Take my business, the world of sports journalism. At times in the past 18 months, it has resembled its own sporting transfer market, with familiar names being lured to new employers.
Would you reject out of hand an altogether more lucrative offer from a rival to your present employer? If you accepted, would you expect a can of vitriol to be poured upon you because of your decision?
You can sympathise with London Irish's situation but the professional sports world doesn't always reward investment. Soccer clubs know that well enough. Players up and off without so much as a backward glance at the club that helped make them what they are. But it's no good getting sentimental or bitter at it. That sort of thing happens in modern day sport the world over.
Can anyone seriously blame Shane Geraghty for putting the offer of a much more financially lucrative contract ahead of loyalty? In a sport as physical as modern day rugby union, I suggest he'd be mad if he didn't.
When your next match could be your last, given the increasingly frequent and serious nature of the injuries around, isn't it imperative that you make as good as possible a provision for your life after rugby, while you can?
Who knows, Geraghty's career or anyone else's might be over in a few months time. Simply accepting an improved pay offer elsewhere doesn't make Shane Geraghty a demon.
All it demonstrates is that in professional rugby, players look after Number 1. If the game doesn't like that, its leaders shouldn't have voted for professionalism in the first place.
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