The coronavirus pandemic and indefinite cessation of all rugby was a reminder, were it needed, as to how fleeting and uncertain a playing career can be.

Never more than a significant injury away from retirement anyway, the signs are that players have used this unwanted time-out from the game to better ready themselves for life after rugby.

“It’s been a positive break for them as athletes in many ways,” says Dave McHugh, the former Operations Manager with Leinster and founder of Line Up Sports, a sports marketing agency which works with many front line Irish players.

“Like James Ryan said, it allowed him to get through all his college work and Josh [van der Flier] the same. A lot of players are reading more. There’s been a lot of personal development, a lot of reflecting time and then obviously it’s been good from a physiology perspective as well.”

Most ex-players dip in and out of it as a way to stay connected to the sport that they love and it’s a way to keep their brand profile out there

Upskilling in other ways, developing qualifications and interests will also help to make a player a better fit with a sponsor or brand, and McHugh also believes the high profile of sports stars will not be diminished by the pandemic.

While plenty of brands have been affected by the pandemic and in many instance they won’t have the same capacity to spend money on sponsorship, McHugh counters: “There has been so much research that says sponsorship delivers on behalf of brands. So it will wobble but the presence of key sports influencers will not diminish, it will just change, I think.”

Developing their qualifications, interests, off-field skills and public profile will also give them more credibility in sectors that they’re interested in and hence, adds McHugh make them “far more valuable to a brand than somebody who just wears a jersey and performs week-in, week-out, and that goes across any sport”.

He cites the example of Conor Murray’s passion for food and how that might make him a good fit for some brands which in turn might also lead to a future career.

“It comes back to the All Blacks’ principle – good people make great players. My philosophy is you’ve got to look ten years forward and then look back. If your rugby playing career is going to last, on average, eight years, the reality – no matter how good you are – is that you’re probably going to have to work for 30 years after your retirement date.

“So it’s so important that you find things that you’re interested in, that you’re good at and might be potential future careers, because you’re going to have to spend a much larger proportion of your life working than you are playing professional sport.”



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