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Europe a key factor in destination of Irish stars

By Niall Crozier

There is little likelihood of more player movement between rival Irish provinces in the foreseeable future, even though the IRFU would certainly like to see it happening.

Certainly no-one in Ulster will be holding their breath in the expectation of seeing an influx of personnel from any of the other three provinces.

There is no real history of any such movement into Ulster, though there have been some examples of players travelling in the opposite direction.

Isaac Boss to Leinster and Willie Faloon, Niall O'Connor, Thomas Anderson and Mark McCrea to Connacht are the most recent cases.

A few days ago, IRFU president Pat Fitzgerald suggested that Connacht's Robbie Henshaw – widely touted as Brian O'Driscoll's heir-in-waiting for the Irish number 13 jersey – could be moved to big guns Leinster or Munster should Ireland coach Joe Schmidt so wish it.

But Philip Browne, the IRFU's chief executive, was quick to shoot that down by saying that while the union want to encourage more player movement, they cannot force an under-contract player into a transfer for the betterment of the national team.

It is an open secret that the IRFU would prefer to see greater movement of players – particularly young players – between provinces in order to improve their game-time opportunities and development prospects.

Connacht has long been viewed as a happy hunting ground for Leinster and Munster, both of whom have repeatedly cherry-picked from the Galway basket over the years.

And now, with the western province almost certain not to make the cut for next season's new European Champions Cup, the probability is that the Blues and the Reds will look again with renewed enthusiasm in the knowledge that players are likely to be amenable to a move which would enable them to participate in Europe's revamped premier club tournament.

Last summer saw Leinster succeed in luring Ireland lock Mike McCarthy away from Galway to Dublin.

He followed a well-trodden path from The Sportsground to the RDS, with Fionn Carr another of those to have walked it in recent times.

It did not quite work out for him, however, for although his try-scoring exploits in the green of his native province had been the stuff of legend he had no such success as a Leinster player and duly returned home.

Already-capped outside-half Ian Keatley is an unusual example in that he is a Dubliner who joined Connacht for whom he duly excelled before switching to Munster.

But the Champions Cup will be a key factor in future moves.

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