Kieran Hallett is another former team-mate of mine, playing together at Plymouth Albion and Cornish Pirates. After a long period with the Pirates, he moved back to Plymouth in a Vincent Kompany-style player-coach capacity, combining his role there with another in the academy at Exeter Chiefs.
A flyhalf with enough pace to do a turn at fullback, Kieran was a well rounded player with a quiver of skills, a touch of flair and a great knowledge of the game. He had a couple of injuries, including a badly broken ankle before I joined him at Plymouth, but still enjoyed a varied and successful career in the RFU Championship.
He’s remained in rugby, recently moving to an exciting new role and has also recently become a parent. Kieran has detailed insight into issues surrounding retiring from sport, as well as current experience of developing the next generation of rugby professionals, making this a valuable perspective.
How did you end your career?
I’d come to a bit of a crossroads in my career, I wasn’t playing as much as I had been previously at the Cornish Pirates and I was looking at either a reduced contract offer or a move to another club, neither of which were particularly attractive options as we had just bought a house and my wife was settled in her job.
While I had options on the table to continue playing for another couple of years, I felt the time was right to explore something else.
Were you happy to end your career when you did? Why?
Honestly, at the time I wasn’t. I felt I still had a few good years in me but the decision I made was the best for my family.
Most professionals will say that you have to be selfish to have a long career, and so putting other factors before my career was a tough decision for me, but ultimately it was the right one.
Chasing a couple of years more playing on average salaries didn’t make sense or appeal to me when we weighed up all the options.
How did you prepare for retirement while you were playing?
I took the UKCC Level 3 coaching course a couple of years before I finished and gained a lot of experience coaching the Pirates juniors, while also delivering a number of coach education sessions on topics relating to my skill set. I’d also been taking kids for kicking coaching sessions.
Even though I had prepared in terms of qualifications, I hadn’t prepared mentally for retirement, I’m not sure you really can. Obviously having things in place to support you when you do is incredibly important but once those thoughts about considering retirement enter your daily mindset, you’re almost giving in to it.
Are you still involved in rugby in any capacity?
Yes, I have just started a new job at Leinster Rugby as their Elite Player Development Officer, having worked in the Exeter Chiefs Academy for the last 3 years, combined with being the Head Coach at Plymouth Albion.
Do you compete in another way now?
Preparing teams to compete at the weekend is my new form of competition, but I have been known to take part in a few Crossfit competitions. I like the individual aspect to it, having played team sports for 10 years, it’s something different preparing for competition as an individual.
What did you do immediately for work?
I was lucky enough that I was offered a job at Exeter Chiefs during the summer after I finished at Pirates, I started at Plymouth a month or so after that.
How did it go?
It went well, the DPP (Developing Player Programme) work I was doing with Exeter was easy enough to get settled into as I had a small involvement with the program previously while still playing. The hardest part was trying to player-coach at Plymouth, I don’t think its possible to make that type of job successful, you need to commit to one or the other. Going straight in to a results driven coaching position was challenging but ultimately has been great for my development as a coach.
What are you doing now?
I am the Elite Player Development Officer for Leinster Rugby, working alongside the Senior squad and coaching staff day to day, looking to transition the Senior Academy players into Pro14 rugby.
Is this something you see yourself doing long term?
Certainly for the foreseeable future, to be around genuine World Class coaches and players everyday is an incredible learning experience.
Leo has won the Champions Cup as both player and coach while obviously Stuart has international coaching experience with England so to be able to pick their brains on coaching matters is brilliant. It’s a great organisation to be involved with.
I obviously have my own coaching aspirations but I’m aware that I’m only now 4 years into coaching as a career and I don’t think I could be in a better place at the moment.
What does it provide for you apart from money?
The satisfaction of seeing players realise and achieve their goals and aspirations. Whether that was helping guys at Plymouth rebuild a club that had experienced administration and meant a lot to a lot of people, or helping them develop skill sets to improve enough to be selected for England Counties and get to wear a rose. Or at Exeter helping really young players get excited about what their rugby futures might hold, while really enjoying running around with their mates.
But the main thing it provides for me is enjoyment, I love this game and couldn’t see myself putting on a suit and working in a business environment everyday. The lifestyle that comes with it is a bonus too, coaches obviously work much longer hours than players, but I get to spend a lot of time with my wife and 9 month old son.
What support did you receive with your transition?
None really. I always knew rugby wasn’t going to provide enough income during my playing career to support me after I finished, so I started looking at options fairly early on and got my coaching qualifications done, I have my degree as well in case I ever need it, but once my last playing contract expired that was it from an organisational point of view, hand shake and see you later.
However I have found that mates who have retired before me, or around the same time, have reached out to offer support to each other and I try to play my part in that and help any former teammates out any way I can, it’s not easy walking away from the game.
Would you say that you have transitioned?
I’d say I probably have a foot in either camp doing the job I do. I miss playing but I don’t yearn for it like I did when I first finished, and I still get to put the training gear and the boots on and be out on the pitch with the boys.
Did you experience any mental health issues as a result of retiring?
When the realisation of retirement from professional rugby became a reality, I went through a bit of a dark time but I wouldn’t necessarily say it affected my mental health, I wouldn’t want to take away from the guys that do genuinely suffer mental health issues.
I was down about not really achieving the things I wanted to or winning the trophies I wanted to when I first started out, but my wife did a great job of changing my perspective.
I was lucky enough to be paid to play rugby for 12 years, met some amazing people, travelled the world and had some incredible experiences, most people don’t even get half of that.
What has sport given you?
Fun, enjoyment, challenges, memories and opportunities. I’d be completely lost without sport.
What’s your best memory from your career?
Being capped at U21 for Ireland and playing in a Junior World Cup would be up there, as would playing in a final at Twickenham for Bedford against Harlequins.
But the best memories are the bus trips home after big away wins, the changing room chat after training or a game and the day to day of being around your mates having fun.
If you had one piece of advice for retiring athletes, what would it be?
Start thinking about it early, it doesn’t have to be a lot or take up all your focus. Think of days off as personal development days rather than sitting on the sofa “recovering”.
For athletes going through the process now, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how much you’re struggling.
Reach out to mates and use your rugby network as much as you can, people are probably more willing to help you out than you think.
Connect with Kieran on Twitter