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Dublin: 17 °C Thursday 31 July, 2014

‘I was critiqued plenty of times as a player’ – Shane Horgan on being an analyst

The former Ireland wing outlines the challenges and positives of his role as part of RTÉ’s rugby coverage.

Horgan on pitch-side duty with Ronan O'Gara.
Horgan on pitch-side duty with Ronan O'Gara.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

MANY A RETIRED sportsperson has spoken about the difficulty of stepping outside the bubble and building a new life after their fame-making first professional career.

But others adapt well, finding their feet quickly and thriving under new circumstances. For Shane Horgan, the fact that he hasn’t had to detach himself totally from the inner circle has helped.

Now working as a rugby analyst for RTÉ and Second Captains, while also studying to gain qualifications as a solicitor, the 35-year-old is loving his ongoing involvement with the game.

“I’m really enjoying it more this year, because there’s been a change for Ireland and also when you leave originally, it’s hard to have as clear an eye, as you’re still attached. There’s been quite a change in the last six months, especially with Joe [Schmidt] coming in and a lot of new players coming in, exciting players as well.

So I’ve really enjoyed it. I get excited, maybe a bit too much like a fan. You have to step back and analyse a little bit more critically and not be so emotionally involved, sometimes you’ve got to check your patriotism.”

Indeed, Horgan’s relationship with rugby has undergone changes, both out of necessity and due to the natural progression of maturity. The former Leinster wing says that as an analyst, he looks at the game more from the “perspective of a coach” than he did when playing.

“I engage with rugby very differently now than when I started playing. Maybe during your last few years in rugby, you look at things slightly differently; you look at things more broadly and team-based, rather than individual-based.

“But, that said, the analysis that you would have done for oppositions teams would have been quite specific and focused on what your role was. Of course you did a general team overview of the opposition, but then you focused in on your role within that, their weaknesses around your involvements.”

Joe Schmidt and Shane Horgan

Topping up on inside information with Joe Schmidt.

Source: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Horgan continues to explain that while his mindset on analysis as a player was very week-to-week, he now examines games in a broader context across a longer time frame, searching for common traits in how a team plays, as well as for individual contributions.

The 65-times capped Ireland international watches more rugby than he did when he was still active as a player, and underlines that he watches “in a different way.” Getting a sense of what the coach is trying to get from his team is important, as is a “counter-analysis” of teams, looking for weaknesses that could be exploited.

Horgan, an ambassador for the Guinness Plus app, admits that being part of the set-up at RTÉ is “nice work,” but also points out that several hours of preparation go into what we see on our TVs at the weekend.

We’d have a number of discussions with the producers in RTÉ in the week leading up to the game. We would have an early chat, look at footage and maybe say ‘these are common traits’ or ‘that would be interesting to pull out for people watching the game’.

“It’s always nice to have something that you think will come up during the game, so you can keep an eye out for something that may have a real influence. I always think that’s quite interesting to do.”

Whereas scoring a try, making a dominant tackle or fielding a towering kick were the thrills in years gone past, the enjoyable moments as a TV analyst include picking up on facets of the game that will help viewers understand events in more depth.

One of the perceived drawbacks, particularly for someone who retired as recently as 2012, is the occasional need to criticise and comment negatively on players Horgan still has personal relationships with.

Shane Horgan with Paul O'Connell

'Shaggy' catches up with Paul O'Connell during last year's Six Nations.

Source: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

However, the Meath man doesn’t see that as a major challenge.

“It’s not that difficult, I find. In the critique of a game, I don’t think there’s any issues with having played with players before. I think players are very aware that it’s part of rugby, that you get critiqued.

“I think they’re also aware of when they do good things and do bad things. It’s important to mention both and I also think that there are often reasons for mistakes, as well as work that people do that facilitates, maybe for a try. Those things are important to point out as well.

If you’re playing international rugby, you’re a good player – you’ve got a good skillset, there’s a lot about you. Then there are different factors that can make you have a good game or a bad game. Some of them are personal error or personal brilliance.

“You need to point out all of those things to get a clear picture. I think if you’re considered about what you say, most players accept that. It’s going to happen one way or another, so largely they’re happy with being critiqued. I was critiqued plenty of times as a player. Sometimes I thought fairly, and others unfairly. If you try to do it fairly, that’s ok.”

Despite only being out of the game for two years, Horgan already sees a great change, particularly in how well conditioned the players are. He points to the sheer size and shape of the internationals, while also highlighting the decline in soft tissue injuries.

There are occasional and understandable pangs of desire to be back on the pitch [Shane Horgan would fit in perfectly for Joe Schmidt's Ireland, one feels], Horgan says he wouldn’t be “greedy” enough to think like that for more than a moment.

Shane Horgan and his brother Mark

Horgan with his brother Mark.

Source: ©INPHO/James Crombie

He has taken to his new rugby role with comfort, looking at ease on the RTÉ screens. While one of Horgan’s sisters, Sharon, is an actress and comedian, and his brother Mark is involved in the Second Captains podcast, the 2005 Lions tourist doesn’t wholly subscribe to the idea that his family are built for public speaking.

“The girls are very good like that, but I think you’re more comfortable if you’re involved in something that you have a knowledge of. I’d feel less comfortable talking about other issues. If you’re involved in rugby for a long time, it’s a very big part of your life and it’s something you have that background knowledge in.

Of course, you’re still learning all the time. I’m certainly still learning the ropes on TV, very much so. But you’re coming from a background where you have a reserve knowledge of what you’re talking about.”

Alongside his rugby work, Horgan is currently studying in London to become a solicitor. Already qualified as a lawyer, the 35-year-old is clearly focused on excelling in this area of his life too. Is his rugby background proving an aid in this aspect of his new life too?

“Rugby does give you a good base to do other things. It gives you certain skill sets, but I think that happens in many other walks of life as well. I think anyone who has another career and changes to go into a different career, they will have learned stuff and picked things up from that first career.

“Rugby is great, it teaches you a lot of discipline and other things. But also over time you just pick stuff up; as time passes you learn. Whether that be in rugby or in any other field, you’re a very difference person in your 30s than you are in your 20s.”

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