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Former Ulster winger puts family before rugby as he retires at just 26

 

By Jonathan Bradley

At this time of year, retirement news comes thick and fast in the rugby world, with injuries or Father Time catching up with a raft of players at all levels of the sport.

Even still, Belfast-born, former Ulster winger Mike Allen's own decision to walk away from the game was one that came as a surprise.

The 26-year-old, practically born with a ball in his hand, has played his last professional game after deciding the time was right to begin his post-rugby career.

With his wife Eireann a doctor working in the Scottish capital, and the pair expecting a first child this summer, Allen has chosen to stay in the city they have fallen in love with and train to become a financial advisor, rather than chase contracts in the French or English second tiers.

"To be honest at Christmas I was going to keep playing, I wanted to stay with Edinburgh and the conversations were all very positive," he explained.

"I found out towards the end of January that there wasn't going to be a contract for me here. "By the time that all happened, most other teams had done their recruiting so the options were the Championship or PRO D2.

"I just looked at it and thought, I've got a wife, I've got a baby coming the summer, I didn't want to move us again, to go for a year, then maybe somewhere else the next. It could have been three different places in three years just to get a pay cheque.

"I would rather just admit I've had my time rather than go down to play in a lower league just to make money."

The financial sector was not always the post-rugby plan, indeed Allen had been expecting to become a barber when he hung up his boots.

Once again, family was at the centre of the change of heart.

"I did my barbering all last year so I was cutting all the Edinburgh boys' hair last season and shadowing a barber over here who is a good mate of mine. That was what I wanted to do. I thought I'd retire at 31 or 32, and have had a barber shop up and running for a few years first.

"Obviously that came five or six years too early in the end. I just looked at it and going from a rugby players salary to zero, I needed to know how I was going to provide for my baby.

"I just saw this as a great opportunity. I don't have the qualifications but that's not they want. They just want you to be you. To be personable. You have to pass the exams of course, but it's about going and chatting to people. It was too good to pass up."

He does, however, take plenty of memories with him into his new walk of life.

Having first came to attention alongside the likes of Paddy Jackson and Craig Gilroy in a fine Methody side that won the Schools' Cups - where he believes he played his best rugby - he was earmarked as one to watch early on and progressed through the Academy ranks.

He was able to show that talent when given the chance for Ulster but, with Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Gilroy ahead of him in the pecking order, such opportunities became few and far between.

Edinburgh beckoned and it's a move Allen would encourage anyone to make, but it's those first days in an Ulster jersey that stick out.

"Any lad with any rugby interest, that's the aspiration to play for Ulster. I remember playing medallions and thinking about what it would be like to play for Ulster.

"Making my debut, playing at the new Kingspan, that was amazing.

"I know I'm going to miss it. The Edinburgh boys will go into pre-season the start of June, and one week later I'm going to be wearing a suit and a tie every day.

"My Dad, being a big club man with North and then Harlequins, my first Saturday at the club was when I was two weeks old. I've spent my weekends around rugby from when I was no age at all.

"I'll be keeping watching, I grew up with those lads so I'll always have an eye on it, but Fridays for me now I'll go to work, feed the baby, and then be watching it on TV.

"It's going to be different but it's exciting."

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