Irish sports agent on uncertainty surrounding Ireland’s top athletes


David McHugh knows all about dealing with times of uncertainty.

After stepping down as team manager at Michael Cheika’s Leinster in 2007, McHugh founded Line Up Sports with the vision of creating a more holistic approach to sports management. Think of a more pragmatic version of Jerry Maguire and you get the picture.

No sooner had this business started than the global financial crisis took hold. Regardless, the business has survived and thrived and today is home to some of the biggest names in Irish rugby with Conor Murray, James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Rob Kearney and Jacob Stockdale all on board.

On arrival at the Leinster Rugby Awards Ball were Rob Kearney of Leinster with David McHugh. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

There is also boxer Kellie Harrington, the O’Donovan brothers, jockey Rachael Blackmore as well as international Sevens Greg O’Shea, or ‘Love Island’ winner as he is more known.

Fast forward to the present day and the sports industry is in the eye of the storm of the health crisis.

“We have good days and bad days,” McHugh admits.

“I put staff on leave because it made sense. Granted, our revenue projections are probably down about 60% from what we were hoping for the year and that’s obviously a concern, but we’re also using the time to get creative.

“This is essentially the second recession in 10 years for me and I am very proud to have built a business during a recession and have grown it every year since I started.

The uncertainty of Irish sports agents
Conor Murray, Tadhg Furlong, and James Ryan are just a few of McHugh’s clients. Photo: INPHO / Billy Stickland

“When I created the company in 2007, I did it because I wanted to do it differently from what was done before and I wanted to show that a sports agency does not just negotiate employment contracts and to secure income on the field for athletes, but that there was a greater duty of care in the management of these people, their advice and their mentorship.

And the job doesn’t end when these athletes call it a day, either.

“When you get to this point in your career, it will always be difficult to make the transition, but it’s about making sure you’re prepared as best you can as possible rather than getting to the edge of a cliff and falling off that cliff and being very uncertain about the future and where you’d like to go or how you’re going to get there, ”says McHugh.

“Whether you are a boxer, sailor, hockey player, rugby player or rower, the principles are the same. High performance lasts on average, say seven to 10 years, but your working life is going to be 35 years beyond, on average, so you have to focus on life outside of sports and there is very little of that. athletes who have retired in this country and who don’t really have to worry about what they will do next.

The O’Donovan brothers are just one of the many famous Irish athletes McHugh looks after. Pic: Sportsfile

Professional sports can be a ruthless business and McHugh implored his clients to improve their skills during this unprecedented sports shutdown. He points to Ryan and Josh van der Flier who have taken the time to return to college in recent months. Mike Ross, another client, made a virtually smooth transition to the tech industry after the former Leinster and Ireland accessory hung up its boots in 2017.

People like Harrington and the O’Donovan brothers were preparing for the Tokyo Olympics this summer before their world was turned upside down by the coronavirus.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system, but I think athletes have so many skills that help them in life: resilience, determination, tenacity, adaptability and commitment,” says McHugh, a renowned sailor in his career. youth.

“If you move the 12 month goal, it’s about readjusting, resetting, and planning what you know and what you can control. Kellie is really interesting to me because she now works in a mental hospital. She’s one of those people who isn’t just ready to sit around and do nothing.

The uncertainty of Irish sports agents
Kellie Harrington worked on the front line in a mental hospital. Photo: INPHO / Laszlo Geczo

“I think Paul O’Donovan falls into the same category. He plows his medical studies because he had a 10 week block where he does his daily training on an Erg (rowing machine) … but he uses the time to study and follow and get ahead of his studies .

Preparation for life after retirement is essential. The new normal, to borrow an expression of current power.

“You see a lot of former athletes floundering through life until they find a renewed sense of purpose and passion. If you invest in this during your career, it makes finding your way a bit easier.

“It’s a big blow, no matter what kind of career you’ve had. What am I going to do when I wake up on a Monday morning? Who am I? What am I good at? What do I like ?’

It remains a stressful time for rugby players.

The current climate makes contract negotiations and potential transfers all the more precarious.

McHugh has a positive note, however, saying that “very few players” in his team have yet to make deals until next season, when it can be. Navigating through times of upheaval is normal for the course.

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