For more than a decade the IRFU centrally contracted more than 20 players per season. In recent years however, that number dropped to as low as 12.
With increased pressure from big spending English and French clubs the IRFU have been forced to tie up new centrally contracted deals for Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Rory Best, Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy and Jared Payne.
- Jamie Heaslip (Leinster – 2017)
- Donnacha Ryan (Munster – 2017)
- Devin Toner (Leinster – 2017)
- Andrew Trimble (Ulster – 2017)
- Rob Kearney (Leinster – 2018)
- Tommy Bowe (Ulster – 2018)
- Rory Best (Ulster – 2018)
- Peter O’Mahony (Munster – 2018)
- Jared Payne (Ulster – 2018)
Post-World Cup 2019
- Sean O’Brien (Leinster – 2019)
- Keith Earls (Munster – 2019)
- Robbie Henshaw (Connacht/Leinster – 2019)
- Johnny Sexton (Leinster – 2019)
- Cian Healy (Leinster – 2019)
- Conor Murray (Munster – 2019)
Leinster prop Jack McGrath is expected to join that list from the start of next season.
David McHugh, an agent for four of the players on the list (Kearney, O’Brien, Ryan and Toner), believes there has been a reassessment within the union of what gets the most value for money. He said:
“It is not that they are paring them down or trying to fill 23 spots… What warrants a national contract is a consistent, starting position in the national team.
“I’m assuming that the mind-set is there are 13 [now 14] players in the professional game that they presume are starters, spread out across the provinces….
“Ian Madigan wasn’t offered a national contract despite being involved in the last 25-odd games. Dave Kearney was not offered a national contract. So, the criteria that makes you that starting 15 player is at the IRFU’s discretion.”