The most controversial transfers between the Irish provinces over the last 10 years
Moving between the four Irish provinces isn’t as big a deal as it once was, but the transfer market in Ireland still tends to throw up its fair share of controversy. Some players have moved in search of trophies, leaving less well-resourced provinces in the hope of building up their medal collections. Others have moved in search of game-time, leaving competitive squads in Leinster and Munster hoping to earn more time on the pitch.
Here, we look back at some of the most controversial transfers between the Irish provinces over the last 10 years.
The biggest take-away from Robbie Henshaw’s 2016 switch from Connacht to Leinster was the sense of inevitability once rumours of a potential transfer first surfaced. Henshaw was a stand-out player in Pat Lam’s great Connacht side, and his rise through the ranks saw him earn a central contract with the IRFU, something reserved for only the top players in the Irish system. The conditions of that contract would have reportedly allowed Henshaw to stay in Connacht or move south to Munster, but instead the centre opted for a switch to Leinster.
Connacht were helpless as one of the top talents to come through their academy packed his bags. Henshaw insisted the decision was his and his only, noting the fact that his girlfriend, as well as family and friends, were based in Dublin. In his last game for the province, Henshaw helped Connacht beat Leinster in the 2016 Pro12 final to win the first trophy of their long history.
When Jordi Murphy’s move from Leinster to Ulster was announced in December 2017, it was seen as a sensible move for the player, without representing a significant loss for Leo Cullen’s star-studded Leinster squad. However, over the next few months Leinster were hit hard by injuries and Murphy stepped up to the plate, delivering some eye-catching performances that underlined his value to the squad. He ended the season with his highest number of appearances for Leinster (21) since 2014, raising questions as to whether Leinster could actually afford to lose a player of his quality.
By moving to Ulster, Murphy hoped to earn more first-team action and keep himself in the mix for international honours. Having initially missed out on the 2019 World Cup squad, he was flown in as a replacement player only to pick up an injury in his first game in Japan. After a promising start to his Ulster career, Murphy will hope his fortune improves going forward.
While not an established star at the time, Andrew Conway’s move from Leinster to Munster in 2013 still managed to raise plenty of eyebrows. Having shone for the Ireland U-2os, Conway was hotly-tipped to make an impact at Leinster, but struggled to nail down a regular first team place in a highly competitive squad.
Injuries held him back further, and so Conway took the surprise decision to join Munster, despite Leinster’s desire to keep him in Dublin. Conway hasn’t looked back, becoming a hugely valuable member of Munster’s first team, making 124 appearances for his adopted province to date.
A player who has achieved the rare feat of representing three of the four Irish provinces. Cronin, born in Limerick, came through the Munster system and made just two appearances for his home province before joining Connacht in 2008. With Connacht the hooker gained valuable first-team experience, and sufficiently impressed to earn a move to Leinster in 2011, where he again managed to bring his game to another level.
While his opportunities at international level suffered from the presence of former Ireland captain Rory Best – only 10 of his 72 caps have been starts – Cronin has been hugely important to Leinster’s success in recent years. Last season, he was joint-top try-scorer in the Champions Cup, matching Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale with six tries.
Munster, and Connacht, were left wondering what might have been.
A move that would have been unthinkable just a few years previously. Last year, McGrath, a British and Irish Lion who was named on the bench for all three Tests against New Zealand in 2017, decided to leave Leinster after finding first team action increasingly hard to come by. After years of battling it out with Cian Healy for the loosehead spot at club and international level, McGrath had found himself the clear second choice to a player two years his senior.
He decided to join Ulster, where his career has failed to reignite. McGrath has yet to be capped for Ireland since joining Dan McFarland’s squad, and the next year is set to be a significant one for a player who will turn 31 in October, but should still have plenty to offer.
In May 2011 it was announced that Leinster Academy graduate Fionn Carr would be leaving Connacht for Leinster, who later that month would collect their second European Cup medal.
It was a bitter blow for Connacht. Carr had joined the struggling province from Leinster in 2008 and quickly settled in, going on to become the province’s all-time top try-scorer. His rise resulted in a move back to a high-flying Leinster side at the age of 25. Upon his return, Carr featured regularly for Leinster in the league but struggled to make an impact at European Cup level. In 2013 he returned to Connacht having turned down the offer of a new contract in Leinster.
Of all the players to slip out of Leinster’s hands in recent years, losing Joey Carbery to Munster in 2018 represented the biggest disappointment.
A gifted player who shot through the ranks, Carbery felt his development was suffering as a result of being behind Jonathan Sexton in the Leinster pecking order. Battling it out with Ross Byrne to play number two to Sexton, the IRFU reportedly spoke to both players about moving away from the province, and informed Leinster that one of them would need to leave.
An angered Leinster wanted to keep both, having put in all the hard work of bringing Carbery and Byrne through their system. A few days after Carbery was pictured with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt in a Dublin coffee shop, his move to Munster was confirmed. Despite being a product of the Leinster system, Carbery has been warmly embraced by Munster supporters. However, his on-going injury problems have prevented the 24-year-old from making the desired impact at Thomond Park.
Not the most-high profile transfer on our list, but Nick McCarthy’s move to Munster from Leinster last year certainly managed to stir-up some ill-feeling.
Seeing a player move between the two great rivals wasn’t the shock it used to be, but the young scrum-half’s decision to leave an extremely successful Leinster set-up left a sour taste with head coach Leo Cullen. Despite the embarrassment of riches at his disposal, Cullen was growing increasingly incensed at seeing rival provinces lure young Leinster players away with the promise of more first team action, particularly as Leinster had made a genuine effort to keep McCarthy on their books.
“Everyone here at the club is conscious of the fact that there is a lot of Leinster players being… ‘targeted’, maybe? I’m not sure what the best way to describe it is,” Cullen said.
Unfortunately for Cullen, the growing trend of young players leaving the club wasn’t going to slow down anytime soon.
Leinster were once again said to be extremely frustrated with the IRFU after highly-rated prop Roman Salanoa became the latest young player to swap Leinster for Munster. The move was confirmed on a busy day of transfers in Ireland last month, with Connacht also announcing the signing of Munster players Sammy Arnold and Conor Oliver, as well as Leinster duo Jack Aungier and Oisin Dowling.
Salanoa, born in Hawaii, is believed to have turned down a move to Connacht – leading Leinster to believe he was staying with Cullen’s squad – before agreeing terms with Munster.
Leinster’s concern is that he won’t be the last to fancy his chances elsewhere.
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