A central figure in the negotiations that have kept Matt Williams in Irish rugby and Leinster in particular, was Dublin busiinessman John Baker who helped broker the deal between IRFU and Williams
Baker first became involved in representing players when Eric Miller went to play for Leicester Tigers. A friend of Eric’s parents the role came about quite by accident, ” I knew Peter Wheeler and was instrumental in getting Eric organised there. Shortly after he joined Leicester the game went professional and his dad Gareth asked me to look after his interests. That’s where it all started really. Then I got involved with Malcolm (O’Kelly) when he decided to return home from London Irish and at the minute I look after about seven or eight players.”
But it’s his role in the Williams deal that has pushed Baker to national prominence and IRFU Chief Executive was clearly impressed with the way Baker handled the deal. At the start of the Thursday press conference to confirm the arrangement, Browne said, ” I was quite satisfied with the way in which the whole process took place. I thought it was handled very professionally and I would like to thank John Baker for his role in helping that process along. It was all done in a very up front manner and we’re just very happy with the way the whole thing was handled.”
In brokering the deal, Baker’s dealt solely with the IRFU, in particular with Browne, John Hussey (Chairman of the Leinster Provincial Management) and Leinster Chief Executive Mick Dawson and Baker confirms that filthy lucre was never an issue. ” It was never about money. Matt took a helluva lot less than what was on offer in England. But there was a great desire on both sides to maintain the staus quo and that made ny job easier. Mind you it took up the past four weeks of my life but the bonus for me was that I became a friend of Matt and his family.”
” The support we had from the players and indeed the management was superb and it all helped. There were several strands that they (IRFU) had to consider. There was the provincial aspect and then the national and it was important that one wouldn’t be addressed to the exclusion of the other.”
Baker’s task was probably made all the easier because he firmly believed that ” if Matt left, it would have been disasterous. He’s a super coach. He’s become a mentor to the players and it would have been very unsettling on them if he’d gone.”
Baker will continue to look after his stable of thoroughbred rugby personnel and it’s likely that IRFU will look to him in the future in this type of role. Such an approach one feels, would be received favourably. ” The first guy I ever dealt with in IRFU in relation to contracts was Billy Lavery and it was a pleasure to deal with him. Phillip Browne is exactly the same. This situation couldn’t have been arrived at without his input.”
So a happy ending and perhaps a watershed in the professional game here in this country.