Just under 12 months ago, Jack Dunne came out as bisexual, earning widespread support for his courageous step in professional rugby.
In the main, that goodwill has continued towards the Leinster lock, who will be moving on from the province later this month.
At the end of his current deal in Leinster blue, Dunne will link up with the Exeter Chiefs as he looks to make the next step of his career in professional rugby.
“Those messages make your day when you get one of those.”
There have been some unwanted voices following Dunne’s brave step, but that does not bother him.
Rather than letting it impact his play and form, the 23-year-old lock is happy to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
“Sport is great for uniting people, lacing up with pride has been going for a couple of years, it’s a really great cause,” he explains at the launch of Aviva’s 2022 #LaceUpWithPride campaign.
“[I’ve] got loads of messages on Instagram and Twitter from young guys all across the country who have been saying, ‘look I’m 15, I play rugby, I’m gay or I am bi, so thanks so much for coming out’.
“Those messages make your day when you get one of those. When I made the decision to come out publicly, the thing that persuaded me was that if this just helps one kid who is 15 or 16, well, then it would be worth it.
“You get one or two Twitter bots every now and then. I have been really happy with the response.”
“Jake Daniels is so young to do it… His decision is incredible…”
In doing so, Dunne, like many before him, has paved the way for sport to become a far more accepting and open place.
In May, Blackpool teenager Jake Daniels became the first active professional footballer to come out as gay in the UK since the 1990s – a step in the right direction.
“Jake Daniels is so young to do it,” Dunne adds. “Some of the football crowds give a lot of abuse so it is probably even more difficult for him. His decision is incredible.”
Although, Daniels has come out at a time in which the Fifa World Cup will be held in Qatar, a nation where it is illegal to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Like what kind of message are they (FIFA) sending by doing something like that?” Dunne asks. “I saw the other day that they tweeted in favour of pride month.
“And my thoughts were, ‘right, it is great to send a tweet and stuff, but if your actions are completely contrary to the tweet’s message then clearly you are following where the money is’.
“Unfortunately that is way the world seems to work. I’d be really disappointed if World Rugby ever decided to host a tournament in a country where there are really bad conditions for groups of people.”
Jack Dunne: “It will definitely be emotional leaving Leinster.”
Thankfully, rugby does appear to be a more open and transparent game where all groups of people in life are respected.
And it has been with the oval ball where Dunne has made his mark in a professional sense, playing for his boyhood club Leinster.
Despite that, he will be moving on to pastures new at the end of the current campaign, with an injury-hit season stalling his progress at the club he adores.
“I was always a Leinster fan growing up, and it’s always been massive honour to pull on the blue jersey,” he begins when speaking about his impending departure.
“Anytime you put it on, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to be here for the next 10 years with the next two minutes… It’s important to do your best to leave the jersey in a better place that you find it.
“It will definitely be emotional leaving them.”
“This is an incredible group of players…”
While unlikely to play against for Leo Cullen’s side again this season, he does leave the province off the back of an excruciating Champions Cup final loss to La Rochelle.
Leinster do have an opportunity to make amends in the URC still, but that defeat showed the togetherness and mentality within a squad that Dunne has learned so much from.
“Everyone was devastated because the whole year, we had worked so hard,” he explains.
“I won’t be part of it next year, but the lads will come back hungrier than ever. A worse team would have let the defeat get to them and fold and let that be the end of their season but this is an incredible group of players.
“We showed that against Glasgow [winning 76-14] and I have no doubt there will be a good performance tonight against the Bulls.”
“That’s the career trajectory I’d hope to go along…”
Dunne must now prepare himself to leave Leinster and join Exeter next season, as he seeks crucial game-time to aid his playing development.
Exeter boss Rob Baxter has been credited with the rise of England international Jonny Hill, who went from international outcast to British & Irish Lion within a short period.
Naturally, Dunne will be hoping that the 51-year-old will have a similar impact on him.
“After a few conversations it feels like he has known you a lot longer than he actually has,” he notes on his new boss. “Chatting to anyone, they will tell you Rob [Baxter] is a great people person. You look at Jonny Hill, when he came in from Gloucester.
“After a couple of years, he was a Lion. That’s the career trajectory I’d hope to go along.”
All proceeds from the sale of this years’ rainbow laces, available on www.aviva.ie/pride for €4, will go to Belong To – a charity which supports young people in the LGBTQ+ community.