Like all mild-mannered Irish sport fans, I assumed Johnny Sexton was cleverly using the possibility of a Racing Metro deal as a way to get the max money out of the IRFU before putting the blue shirt back on for the rest of his career and laying down a marker as the best Irish outhalf of the professional era. But Sexton shocked the Irish sporting world today by taking le cheque from Racing Metro. We're still in a bit of disbelief over the move, but after some preliminary analysis, here are the winners and losers of the deal, as we can see it.
Johnny Sexton: the man will go from playing in a rain-sodden city (the same city he grew up in) in a country in a state of perpetual financial meltdown to living in one of world's greatest cities for two years on a salary of €750k per annum. He'll play alongside Jamie Roberts on a free-spending team in the best rugby league in northern hemisphere. After two big years there, he could make even more money from an even bigger club. Professional athletes operate under an extremely limited window. The 27-year-old is at the height of his powers and might as well make as much money while he can. In purely economic terms, the deal is a no brainer.
Fintan Drury/Platinum One: the former non-executive director of Anglo-Irish Bank and head of Platinum One has presided over some big business deals in his time, but this will stand out as one of his ballsier ones. In ten years time, this Sexton deal could be seen a trailblazing move that paved the way for other marquee Irish players to pursue big bucks in the Top 14 and the Premiership. There are some big names in that Platinum One rugby portfolio. Certainly Drury stands to profit even more if Sexton succeeds in France.
Ian Madigan: The limelight falls upon Madigan next year no matter who Leinster bring in. In one afternoon, the 23-year-old has gone from looking at another few years as Sexton's big game deputy at Leinster to a critical player in the club's near future. He'll pretty much have the stage to himself in the biggest media hub in the country when the jockeying between himself, Paddy Jackson and Ian Keatley to take on the role as Ireland's go-to #2 out-half begins in earnest (ie whenever ROG decides to shove off). And if Sexton's spell at Racing Metro is a disaster and his form dips terribly, Madigan becomes even more important. The opportunity is there if wants it.
— Cian Healy (@ProperChurch) January 25, 2013
Gerry Thornley: the man has just been given a blank cheque to treble French references in his rugby writing. Ireland's loss is the gain of every Irish Times reader.
The IRFU: Sexton called their bluff and now the IRFU is left to fret the future as one of the country's three most important players sets out his stall abroad. That stranglehold of loyalty that the provinces had over the Ireland's player is over now. We can all sympathise with the financial corner that the IRFU were boxed into here, but it was inevitable that some Irish player was going to take cash abroad. (In hindsight, it's incredible that no one from the so-called 'Golden Generation' moved abroad). The challenge for the IRFU will be closing that Pandora's Box as quickly as possible.
Leinster: A bad week gets worse. I was watching highlights of the 2009 H-Cup semifinal at Croker and thinking about Sexton's transformation as a player on Monday. You think of the Sexton who roared in O'Gara's face after D'Arcy's try and the Sexton who rallied Leinster in the Millenium locker-room with talk of Istanbul. It's hard to imagine Sexton in another jersey. Perhaps you could write off this season for Leinster due to the injury toll and an inevitable hangover from winning almost everything. Without Sexton in the middle controlling things, the future seems much less stable. Madigan might step up, sure. Someone may be brought in, possibly. But until then, a cloud will hang over the club, not quite unlike the one that rolled over Dublin this afternoon.
@whiffofcordite the leinster backline will develop a very different look over the next 2 years. A lot rests on kearney, Luke and fergus.
— Luke Lamont (@luke_lamo) January 25, 2013
Ronan O'Gara: One senses Ireland will may ROG even more now, one fears. It seems possible that in his French spell, Sexton may get hurt or overplayed, and Ireland may again have to call on Ronan O'Gara to don the #10 jersey. If that were to happen, then, and maybe only then, might some sectors of the media fully appreciate just what Sexton has spared Ireland fans from in the last while: O'Gara's dinosaur years.
Johnny Sexton: Right or wrong, there was the perception that bigtime Ireland players don't take the money from abroad. That's been shattered now. If he fails, or he's forced to put club ahead of country, Sexton will be pilloried in the media and by fans as a mercenary. The stakes are pretty high for Sexton here. He can't fail, and he can't forget Ireland. Sexton always stuck us a pretty mild-mannered dude who was generally not bothered by the PR perks or the limelight that came with being an international rugby player. At the same time, because of the endless media fawning of the out-half he deposed, I don't think Sexton's talents have ever been fully appreciated. Now Sexton has essentially decided to go on a solo run. It might be the best decision for his career. It might be the worst. No one really knows.
This is new territory for everybody.