Just days before Connacht head into the critical Christmas period, coach Eric Elwood has been forced to contemplate the possible loss of three key players next season.
Irish hooker Sean Cronin is reported to be close to signing for Leinster, but he is not alone. Former Leinster youngsters Ian Keatley and top try-scorer Fionn Carr are also in negotiations with other clubs, just days after the IRFU announced increased funding and contract extensions beyond one year for the province.
Elwood is aware the trio are currently in talks with other clubs, but accepts it is “the nature of the business”.
“Obviously we are trying to hold on to them, but it is a worry and concern for us,” he says.
“We have been in this position before where we have developed young players but lost them - the likes of Jerry Flannery and Eoin Reddan. It has always been a difficulty for us because we are easy targets, but we are doing our best to hold onto them.”
And, Elwood says, with the World Cup taking place in New Zealand next summer, several clubs that will be missing their internationals are looking to bolster their squads.
Cronin, a former member of the Munster academy, has benefited from game time at Connacht since joining two season ago. He won his first cap against Fiji in November 2009 but injuries to both Flannery and Rory Best have given him opportunites to stake his claim. And with both Bernard Jackman and John Fogarty retiring, it was expected Leinster would come calling.
Like Cronin, both Carr and Keatley signed for Connacht in 2008 after failing to get recognition in their home province. Since then both have gained huge exposure with Carr becoming Connacht’s top try-scorer in the Magners League 2008/09 campaign.