While things are never perfect in rugby, the current landscape, from an Irish perspective, is generally quite positive.
In the Six Nations Ireland have bounced back from their disappointing performance against Scotland by aggressively and professionally dispatching both Italy and France, while both the Under-20s and women’s side are three from three and still in the hunt for grand slams.
At provincial level Leinster and Munster are both chasing domestic and European success, Connacht are making their surge for a Champions Cup place and, after a largely lacklustre campaign, Ulster are taking steps to ensure next season will be a more positive one for them.
While there is plenty to be positive about, the men on our list find themselves in less than pleasant situations and now face a time of uncertainty in their career.
4. Ian Madigan
Madigan was once thought of by many as the heir apparent to Johnny Sexton both at provincial and national level, a player of undoubted talent so much so that many saw him as a potential lions bolter in 2013 after a superb season culminating in his starring role in winning the European Challenge Cup.
While many hoped the move to Bordeaux would allow Madigan to flourish and improve on his game, due to management issues this sadly has not materialised and after going public with his unhappiness in France the Dublin man has got his move away to join Pat Lam at Bristol next season.
The 27-year-old has agreed his new reported €500,000-a-season deal facing the very real likelihood that he will be playing his rugby in the Championship next season. The moves to France and now England have greatly hampered Madigan’s international prospects, as he has lost his spot as Sexton’s understudy to Paddy Jackson, who has come on considerably in his absence.
The emergence of the likes of Joey Carbery, Ross Byrne and Tyler Bleyendaal, who’s soon to become Ireland-qualified, have also dented Madigan’s chances of international involvement in the long-term.
Madigan still remains a fine talent and a superb place kicker and the hope may be that a coach like Pat Lam can bring out the best in him and develop his game management to get himself back on the national team radar should he return home after his three-year contract expires.
3. Dominic Ryan
The number of top class back row players in the current Leinster squad is startling, with eight international players (Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Rhys Ruddock, Ryan and Jordi Murphy) currently vying for just three starting spots on a weekly basis.
Leo Cullen faces an extremely difficult choice on a near weekly basis in choosing four back rowers to be in the match day squad while banishing international quality players to play British and Irish Cup or even in some cases playing AIL rugby.
Ryan has made some 111 appearances since making his senior debut all the way back in 2009, however since that breakthrough and a very promising start the former Gonzaga man has never really managed to nail down a starting berth at his native province.
Ryan may be a victim of his own flexibility as he has split his time in the Leinster back row between playing 6 and 7 while the likes of Van Der Flier and Leavy have come through purely as opensides and learned the finer nuances of the position.
As a 6 Ryan may find it difficult to be as physically imposing as Leinster’s other options in the position such as Ruddock, Conan and even O’Brien. With his contract at Leinster set to expire this year and his previous talk of frustration at his current position in the pecking order it seems likely Ryan will make a move away to establish his best position and hopefully get the first team rugby he needs at this point in his career.
A move to the Premiership seems a likely outcome or possibly even heading north to link up with the man who helped bring him through at Leinster – soon-to-be Ulster coach Jono Gibbs.
2. Ian Keatley
After making the match day 23 for the opening two rounds of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign it may seem harsh to place Keatley on this list, however it is his provincial situation that seems more worrying for him at the moment.
The unquestioned backing the late Anthony Foley gave to Keatley has not continued under Rassie Erasmus as the fit again and very impressive Tyler Bleyendaal has established himself as the first choice 10 at the province.
The 29-year-old has found himself largely limited to bench roles throughout the season and the imminent return of JJ Hanrahan further complicates the scenario for next season as the Kerryman is unlikely to be coming home to play third fiddle.
Throw in the very promising Bill Johnston coming through and things look even more bleak. Keatley does have good versatility to move to inside centre or fullback but with Rory Scannell making the 12 jersey his own and Hanrahan also covering there combined with Munster’s amount of back three options a move away when his contract expires this year looks likely.
1. Marty Moore
Moore’s situation is quite similar to that of Madigan as, like his former teammate, the tighthead prop was the heir apparent to Mike Ross for both his province and his country, however a series of niggling injuries and a drawn out contract saga and that succession plan has changed drastically.
While Moore has publicly come out and said he hopes his move does not deter his international career, when we look at the current Ireland squad and see not a single player in it is based outside the four provinces we realise that Moore hope is baseless.
Questions would have to be asked as to why Moore decided to leave his native province at a time when Mike Ross was 35 and Furlong had yet to make his big breakthrough, especially when Moore had regularly been Joe Schmidt’s man to come off the bench and see out games when Ross tired.
In his absence, however, Tadhg Furlong has not only became Ireland and Leinster’s first choice but has put himself forward as a leading Lions contender. As well as this, the development of both Finlay Belham and John Ryan, Wiehan Herbst, who becomes qualified later this year, the often criticised Michael Bent playing his best rugby since focusing purely as a tighthead and the quality youngsters coming through it’s hard to see Moore making a national team anytime soon.
The 26-year-old said he feels he has improved thanks to his time in the scrum-heavy Premiership and that working with Dai Young, a former prop himself, has been a great aid to him so the hope remains that Moore may return to these shores from England in the not too distant future as a better prop, much like his former mentor Mike Ross did.
Andrew Byrne, Pundit Arena