Colm Kinsella talks to Ian Dowling, Marcus Horan and David Wallace about learning to cope with retirement
BETWEEN them, Marcus Horan, David Wallace and Ian Dowling made more than 500 appearances for Munster over a 15-year period.
However, all three have been forced to come to terms with their rugby-playing careers being cut short.
Winger Dowling was forced to call time on rugby at just 28 in the spring of 2011 due t a hip injury. Ireland and Lions flanker Wallace followed the Shannon clubman into retirement in 2012 after amassing more than 200 caps for Munster due to an on-going knee problem.
Horan was the latest to retire at the end of last season, with a lack of gametime in the marquee fixtures contributing to the decision by Munster’s most capped forward to call it quits.
The transition from life as a high profile, well paid, professional rugby player into retirement can be a difficult one.
A recent study from IRUPA (Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association) of 79 past players found that 31% of players claimed not to be in control of their lives within two years of retiring and just 9% of this group claimed to be satisfied with their second career after rugby. 24% of the total survey of players claimed to be dis-satisfied with their current overall well-being.
However, the experience of making the transition from professional rugby player to retired rugby players differs from player to play.
Ian Dowling, Marcus Horan and David Wallace share their own personal expeirences of what the transition has been like for them
Ian Dowling: “It was early days in the season (2010-11) and my only focus was to try and have a big season with Munster and hope that form would carry through and maybe put in the running for a spot with the World Cup squad.
“I injured my hip (against the Ospreys in September).It ended up being about how my quality of life was going to be. Was this injury going to affect me post-rugby? All of a sudden the realisation that my day-to-day quality of life was going to be impacted.
“I knew I had explored every possible avenue having seen all the specialists, I was able to come to terms with it a bit more. The disappointment that you experience when it comes to an end is incredibly tough.”
Marcus Horan: “I worked extremely hard in pre-season (summer 2012) leading into my last season with Munster. The idea of facing into that again for another season and not getting much game time out was the final straw for me really.
“Moving abroad in the previous years was something I would have thought of. But in my latter years, with the kids here starting school, I just felt it wasn’t for me to go abroad. I felt with the effort I was putting in with Munster in the last year, when you go abroad you nearly have to double that going to a new place.”
David Wallace: “I picked up the knee injury against England in a World Cup warm-up game in August 2011.
“It wasn’t until around four or five months later that it was obvious I would have to retire. The first three months were quite good. I looked to be progressing along expected lines. But when I started running and doing that type of work, the knee reacted quite poorly to that. It started going backwards if anything.
“There was a 12-week period where I was on anti-inflammatories and if I came off of them at all, I was barely able to walk. It just became evident there that it wasn’t going according to plan and that I probably needed a bit of an operation.
“I played a small part in a couple of games for Munster in 2012. My first game back was down in Italy (Aironi). I was on the bench and had trouble even warming up for the game. I walked to the in-goal area rather than jogged because it was too painful. I remember Denis ‘Fogs’ passing me at one stage and he just said ‘hang up the boots Wally.’ I thought ‘you’re not wrong, you’re not wrong.’
DEALING WITH DEMONS
ID: “There are a lot of demons you need to deal with yourself, just to accept that the career is not you now, it’s not reflective of who are as a person. You need to be able to park that.
“To get to that point you need to be able to deal with those kind of demons. Thankfully, I had physio or struggling to catch up with college work, the demands of that.
“My focus was able to quickly move over. I was no longer Ian the rugby player, but Ian the physiotherapy student in UL. I started that course during my final year playing rugby.”
MH: “I am still adjusting to the change. People say ‘oh you can go away and enjoy your food now.’But there is still that bit of guilt there, ‘should I really be having this’ or having a few pints. This was the first Christmas probably where I drank a couple of days consecutively, not to excess, but you might have a pint in someone’s house that you are visiting and have another drink the following day in another house, which I would never have done before. Those kind of things, when you are sitting back and enjoying it, you realise, this is very, very new to me.
DW: “Hamish Adams from IRUPA came down and we went through the ins and outs once a month. Around Christmas timeof 2011, he mentioned to me about weighing up my options around retirement and my plans. I got very offended by that because that was the furthest thing from my mind. As a professional rugby player you are doing everything in your power to make sure you don’t come to that point.
“When someone starts talking to you about the scenario around retirement and not the lie of the land there, I got a bit odd. You are not offended as such I suppose, but I thought we are on two very different wavelengths.
“As time went on, we met again and he was very good about it. Then I said it was no harm looking at what might be involved if I do have to retire.
“And another month later, I had nearly made up my mind, it wasn’t working out and I had to retire. I was very happy he was catering for all eventualities.
“I felt I have dealt with the transition quite well mentally. Down through the years, I heard people talking that it was like a bereavement, along those lines but it hasn’t been that bad.
“I miss playing. I miss the camaraderie. The more time goes on the more you miss that as well. But retirement gives you so many things, time to spend with a young family. You give up an awful lot when you are playing. The time isn’t your own. Having the time to do freely as you wish is great.”
THE END GAME
ID: “Deccie (Kidney) had always been harping on to us about looking at ourselves as a person, not just a rugby player, saying that we needed to be focusing elsewhere as well. He would always be interested in seeing what we were tipping away at outside of rugby.
“I had applied to UL to do Physiotherapy and so I just got my foot in the door there as my last season kicked off. I just started into that full-time course as well as rugby.
“I suppose with other people the older you get you realise retirement is getting closer and there is a realisation and an acceptance of that. I presume for those people, the emotions would be different.”
MH: “I was planning to do another season - maybe two - with Munster. I knew the writing was on the wall half way through last season. The first couple of months you probably spend denying that it’s going to happen. Then you tell yourself it is going to be fine, everything is going to be grand.
DW: “You can’t escape thinking about retirement when you are playing. You don’t know whether it’s going to be tomorrow or 10 years time. It is always something guys think about. I tried doing different courses. When I started being a professional rugby player, I was doing an electronic engineering course in Cork. I left that to one side. I was based in Limerick and it was something you probably needed to be doing full-time.
“I think guys always worry and think about that they are going to do afterwards. Until you retire, you don’t really know unless you have something out there concrete or something you are keen on doing. When I left school there was nothing I really wanted to do as such, maybe something like architecture or something along the design line, but other that, I didn’t really have anything.
ID: “When you retire your whole daily routine is gone out of sync. At times we were treated like babies, told to what to wear, where to be. To the minute detail every aspect of your daily life is managed. That is the biggest adjustment. All of a sudden you have to develop your own daily routine.
“Things you take for granted on a day-to-day basis, that you don’t even consider, that is a massive adjustment. It is just that shock to the system which comes. It was trying to come to terms with it as quickly as possible.”
MH: “I didn’t miss the pre-season last summer. I had a great family time. I got invited out to the Lions legends tour in Australia. I played two games against some of the older Australian players, got to meet up with John Langford. Meeting up with older players makes you realise too that you are gone from the game when you are rubbing shoulders with fellas who are gone out of the game maybe 10 years or so. It was good therapy for me in a sense to do things like that.”
DW: “Having a young family at home means you are not going to be sitting around at home watching TV. You don’t have the time any more. When you are at home, you are productive. I took an office in town to give me some space. This has been great as well in terms of being more productive.
“It is very hard to let go. I have spoken to guys who played the game who are now in their 50s and 60s. Your brain thinks what if the injury comes all right, but you body thinks another.
“A few other guys have mentioned it too. It was more the warm-up for some reason that really stuck out. You think you should be out there. I don’t know why it’s like that.”
ID: “I felt I needed to make a clean breakfrom Munster in terms of my own identity. You are always going to be as a member of a great and special squad of players that was there.
“For me, even though I am living up the road from UL, in Castletroy, the first thing I wanted to do with all the Munster gear I had was to get rid of it, to get new fresh training gear.
“In the early days going to games was tough. It is that ego, or self-belief or self-confidence that you still feel that you contribute to the squad.
“You have something you can offer the squad at a time. I am in my final year here in college, so I am counting down the weeks and months now. It is now I can really enjoy watching Munster. It is only really now I can say that.”
MH: “I still have my Munster playing gear. Its’s a psychological thing with lads not wearing it training any more. I am a bit more practical. I have closets of T-shirts and shorts. I am not going to throw them away for the sake of it. I am in the gym most days and wearing the Munster gear I have. I don’t see the point in it. But I can see where other guys are coming from.
“The way I look at is that I soldiered for 14 years in those colours and I am not embarrassed to wear them either. Everyone has their own opinions on that. It is more out of practicalities at the moment. I am spending my money on nappies right now instead of buying new training gear!.”
DW: “My first game to attend since retirement was the Munster v Leinster one at the Aviva. There are fleeting moments when you really, really out there. Maybe the Ireland v Wales game in the Six Nations last season was one of them. In variably I have a pint in my hand and forget I am injured and can’t play!
“I can see both sides of the argument with wearing the Munster gear training now. I train in UL a bit and I might wear my Irish training shorts, which would be subtle with a small emblem. I don’t think I have ever worn a Munster T-shirt even though I have it and it’s great gear. If I have been there 50 times, I may have worn it once.
ID: “I have thought about coaching. But with the demands at college – we go on placement for four, five and six weeks at a time – and I have been everywhere from Connemara, Clonmel to Castlebar, so it is difficult to commit to a team for training. If I was going to go into coaching I would need to have the time to be able to give to it and give it a fair shot. I might dabble in it a bit when I finish my physio course.”
MH: “If I was to be involved in rugby, I would prefer the coaching side of it. If I had a choice to make, that is where I would be going. I think I have a lot to offer in coaching terms. I was involved with the Munster U-19s this season.
“I did the new scrummaging course with the IRFU over the summer.
“I hope I can offer something to young lads and I am in the process of doing that around Munster at the moment. We set up a scrummaging clinics around Munster with some of the under-age guys.
“I would love to see Munster become a real home for front row players, so we don’t have to go abroad looking for talent down the road to get us out of a hole, that we could create a conveyor belt of talent coming through.
“We have alsways prided ourselves, including my own club Shannon on helping to provide quality front row players. We want to try and continue that.
“I enjoyseeing young lads develop and learn. Munster and Ireland need to capitalise on players of my own generation that have come through. They learned a huge amount from the coaches they have had.”
DW: “I always said I never saw myself going down the coaching route. It may be hard to avoid it at times. I dabble a bit in that if someone asks me I might help out once in a season. I think it is something you need to be doing it full-time and I am just so busy with home life and trying to get myself sorted out with careers, that is taking up most of my time. I have no intention of getting involved.
ID: “At the moment I am focused on finishing my degree course in Physiotherapy in UL later this year. By the end of this semester I will be done with study! At the minute I am focused on projects.
MH: “I got offered a few different things work wise after I retired.
“I tried my hand at insurance over the summer and right up to September, but found out it wasn’t for me. It was a business I wasn’t attracted to , but I am glad I tried it. I can say I gave it a go. I am just finding my feet.
“I am involved in coaching a bit, trying to find what tickles my fancy at the moment, what inspires me.
“I was fortunate with the rugby to be doing something that I really love. In my mind of my mind, I am telling myself that I have to find that buzz again which is probably a bit unrealistic.
“But I want to make sure I find the right thing and not rush into something.
DW: “I am involved with the Mr Simms Old World Sweet Shoppe franchise in Ireland. I am looking to get into something else as well.”