For any rugby player who has played the game professionally for 20 years, the thought of retirement must be a daunting one. However, for Peter Stringer, who retired last year on his own terms, he is happy to now live his life in the same manner.
Ireland are favourites going into this weekend’s Guinness Six Nations opener against England, having won three of their last four encounters against Eddie Jones’ side. However, Stringer is part of the older brigade who remember the days when games against the English were more about damage limitation than coming away with a win.
“The early days were terrible. You were beaten by 40, 50 points. That first game, I was sitting on the bench in 2000, didn’t get on. Probably just as well really, a lot of careers kind of ended that day in Twickenham in 2000”, he recalled at the launch of the AIB Future Sparks Festival 2019.
“2003 then another bad day, a Grand Slam decider in Lansdowne Road. Then, as the years went on, we had some good days over in Twickenham, Triple Crowns.”
The 41-year-old’s last appearance in a green shirt came on a day when Ireland dismantled England’s hopes of a Six Nations. Not that Stringer will be taking any credit for that 24-8 victory.
“I look back on it, I came on for five minutes in that game, missed one tackle, it was my only involvement in the game.”
While it was a tough pill to swallow at the time, he is now at peace with his international retirement, happy that he was part of a unique squad that saw Ireland rise up through the ranks to become one of the best teams in the world.
To solidify that standing, Ireland beat world champions, New Zealand, in Dublin last November. Their first win over the All Blacks on home soil. The Cork man was there, standing on the sidelines as a pundit with Channel 4. Though there was still a longing to cross that coveted white line, Stringer was content being able to cheer on the Irish boys with the tens of thousands of other fans in the stadium.
“Working with Channel 4 recently at the Ireland New Zealand game, working pitchside, you’re so close to stepping over that white line, you’re on the other side of it and you’d love one more go at it!”
“That will never leave you, and you’d never want it to leave you, it just brings back those memories that you were able to experience.”
“It was tough watching the Ireland team initially but now I’m a fan. I’m able to enjoy those wins. Being at Twickenham last year for a Grand Slam, working at the side of the pitch, freezing cold and being able to enjoy it. I’m glad that I’m at peace with the whole thing now.”
He may sometimes feel the urge to stick on a jersey again and take his place on the pitch, but that’s not to say that he doesn’t fully enjoy retired life. The key to a smooth transition – preparation. With no injuries that ended his career prematurely, Stringer was able to plan for life after rugby and still maintains a daily schedule that keeps his body, and his mind, healthy.
“Everything I’ve learned through that process has started a new life for me. I’m still training, I’m still looking after myself – a lot better than I did when I was playing because I’m in control of it.”
“I’m in control of my own life now and living by my own schedule.”
“It’s amazing. To spend time with family, take time out and have that little bit of freedom where you’re not living by someone else’s schedule and to just put it into your own life so you can live the life you want to live.”
To do that preparation, and have a plan in place for life after rugby, is something the Munster legend would urge every young player to do, no matter how invincible you feel when you graduate from schools rugby to your first professional contract.
You never know what the future holds and you must be ready to face any and all eventualities.
“Guys who start out now, it’s a lucrative business in terms of your contracts and contracts are getting bigger and bigger, the number of guys who want those positions is increasing as well. Guys coming out of school, but not everyone is going to make it.”
“Yes, go for it, give it your 100% but realise that for you to make it, it’s going to take a lot and the limited spaces that are there nowadays, it’s important to have other things going on in your life as well.”
“You could be playing for four or five years, things could be going very well but all of a sudden cut short with an injury. It opens up other doors, certainly, for other opportunities, through networking, but it’s just finding other activities that interest you that don’t seem like a chore so you enjoy doing it and things come easily to you.”
Amid his varying interests and precious family time, Stringer took on a completely different project – Dancing With The Stars.
He laughs as he admits that the show is now his claim to fame among children these days.
“Younger people now, just on Twitter, some guy tweeted me saying that his eight-year-old daughter sat up watching the Munster game and saw (me) doing the analysis and said: ‘Oh! That’s the guy from Dancing [With The Stars]!’.”
“Donncha (O’Callaghan) says it as well, he goes to the Munster games now and nobody would know. The young kids, they’d never know that he played for Munster – he’s that guy off the kids program. He’s that guy off Ireland’s Fittest Family.”
“Times do change, but you’d like to think that there’s people out there that remember the big days.”
He need not worry about that for his name will forever be written into rugby foclóir. Whether in the green of Ireland or the red of Munster, Peter Stringer will be remembered as the man who played the game on his own terms and a shining example of how to carry that mentality into the next chapter of life.