CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Turning pro is not the 'no brainer' it appears

First published in Columnists South Wales Argus: Photograph of the Author by

FORMER Newport County skipper Gary Warren will be spending his summer dreaming of playing at Parkhead and Ibrox after reaping the rewards for taking a risk.

The centre-back has swapped Conference football with the Exiles for Scottish Premier League action with Inverness Caley Thistle.

His move to Scotland comes after he made a brave call when faced with a decision that will confront an increasing amount of Premier-ship rugby players.

Warren was training to be a PE teacher the season before last but put that on the back burner to go full-time with County.

It’s fair to say he will have no regrets when he pitches up in the beautiful Scottish Highlands and sees the names of Celtic, Rangers (providing they’re still an SPL side), Aberdeen and Hearts on the fixture list.

It wouldn’t have been an easy decision and it is a dilemma that will increasingly crop up as belts are tightened in Welsh regional rugby.

In these times of austerity it has become a necessity to cast an eye on the talent in the Premiership and a batch of players have been invited to join Newport Gwent Dragons at pre-season training after impressing last term.

It is inevitable in the coming season that the region, who have trimmed the fat from their squad, will be making calls to Newport, Cross Keys and Bedwas, asking to borrow a player or two.

The coaching staff have been delighted by what they have seen from the semi-professionals, which raises the possibility of them being faced by a dilemma.

Rugby chiefs love to talk about ‘pathways’ and in recent seasons the Premiership has been a route that the Dragons have used pretty successfully.

Andrew Coombs, Tom Riley, Mike Poole, Darren Waters, Rhys Buckley and, of course, Lloyd Burns have all earned deals on the strength of their performances at semi-professional level.

It’s a relatively cheap gamble to offer a raw talent the chance to step up and give it a crack, particularly compared to the mixed bag of overseas signings that have pitched up at Rodney Parade in recent years. Fans will always give more leeway to a home lad trying to make it than a seasoned pro from foreign lands.

But it’s not just the region taking the risk; the players have to weigh up whether it is worth giving professional sport a crack.

They would have to give up their jobs for a contract that in all probability sees them taking a pay cut with no guarantee that in a year or two they will have a future in professional sport.

Of course there are success stories; Burns is the face of the Premiership after his journey from bricklayer to playing for Wales at the World Cup.

But it’s not as simple as offering a player a contract and they gleefully sign on the dotted line without a moment’s consideration.

There is one particular Premiership player who would undoubtedly be on the regions’ wanted list after a superb season… but they are not on his radar.

He was a bright prospect and was one to watch as a youth but he told me with brutal honesty that he doesn’t fancy holding tackle bags and being a bit-part player.

Rugby is fun to a lot of Premier-ship players and provides some pocket money rather than paying the mortgage. They have jobs, train a couple of times a week, play on Saturdays and can then have a beer or two.

Going pro is a dream to many of them and most would sign a contract in a flash, even if it was only to avoid the prospect of pondering what might have been when they’re in their 30s.

There is some top talent in the Premiership but it’s not as simple as saying a region should have a pop on him; it’s a two-way street.

Just as jobs are being cut in the ‘real world’, rosters are being slashed in rugby with players fighting for an ever-reducing number of contracts.

Giving up employment to chase the dream of professional sport is a tough call and it is one that leaves you admiring the bravery, self-belief and desire of athletes like Warren, Burns, Coombs et al.

They deserve their success for backing their talent.

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