Ciaran Hearn didn’t get a big signing bonus. Any bonus, for that matter. And he certainly hasn’t signed a multi-year contract.
Instead, Hearn collects his 1,500 bucks a month — lunch money, really, compared to pro contracts — but still is at the top as a Sport Canada A carded athlete.
He doesn’t play rugby for the money. Instead, it’s for the — insert cliche here — age-old love of the game.
Hearn, from Conception Bay South, is in Glasgow, Scotland today, along with Patrick Parfrey of St. John’s, as members of Canada’s rugby team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
It’s seven-aside rugby that’s played in the Commonwealth Games, and beginning in 2016 in Rio de Janiero, the Olympic Games.
Hearn is also a part of Canada’s national 15s team, which vies for World Cup attention.
“I can’t really pick one,” Hearn was saying this week, when asked if he prefers the 7s game vs the traditional 15 players aside. “For me, both are super enjoyable. It’s the whole reason why I play the game ... I love it.”
Hearn has been on Vancouver Island the past eight years, training with the national team in the Victoria suburb of Langford, B.C.
In addition to Hearn and Parfrey, shooter Mark Hynes of Bristol’s Hope, now stationed in New Brunswick with the Canadian Armed Forces, is also competing at the Commonwealth Games.
As well, Conor Trainor of the Canadian rugby team has Newfoundland roots. The 24-year-old is from Vancouver, but his parents, Terry and Brenda are from St. John’s, while his paternal grandfather is the late Terry Trainor Sr., who was well-known in local senior hockey circles.
It wasn’t that long ago that Hearn was playing junior hockey in St. John’s during the winter, a promising rugby player in the summer.
Today, he is a veteran of international rugby. This is Hearn’s second Commonwealth Games, having competed in the 2010 Delhi, India Games.
In 2011, he played in Mexico at the Pan Am Games. He was in one World Cup of Rugby, in 2011 in New Zealand, and two World Cup 7s, in 2009 and 2013 in Dubai and Russia.
That doesn’t include almost constant touring with the national teams (he just finished a tour of the United States with the 15s in June).
Hearn is not unlike any other athlete — depending on the sport, of course — who dreams of a pro career. Rod Snow did it for years, knocking heads professionally on the turf in South Africa and Wales.
But it’s easier said than done, landing a pro deal overseas. And let’s face it, Hearn’s age (28) and citizenship papers don’t help matters.
“You have to be either young, or you go over for a minimum contract,” he said.
“The money is liveable, but that’s about it. You have work your way up.
“As Canadians, we’re not really on the radar in terms of getting picked up. Canada is a great country, but when it comes to rugby, and trying to get a contract overseas, if you don’t have a European passport it’s really tough with all the import rules.”
So it’s not as simple as, say, a Canadian hockey player heading to Germany or Switzerland. Or if you happen to be Rod Snow or Gareth Rees.
“Definitely not,” Hearn said.
“I mean, I’ve had offers, but it’s the draw of playing 7s and playing in the Olympics that holds you back,” he said. “Playing pro is definitely on the radar, but you need to have the right contract, you
“To go to a team that doesn’t play an expansion game, or a wide game, would be kind of a detriment to my game. It’s about getting a team where you can fit in and progress.”
So for Hearn, his sights are on the Nats, and the Commonwealth Games. The rugby competition starts today and finishes up Sunday night with the bronze and gold medal matches.
That’s the thing with rugby 7s. It’s quick. Real quick. As in 14 minutes from start to finish for a game. An entire tournament can be played in two days. Today, Canada plays New Zealand, Barbados and Scotland today. Sunday, it’s the playoffs.
“It’s the same game, but at the same time, it’s two totally different games,” Hearn said of the 7s and 15s games.
“The way you play the game is totally different. In 15s, it’s a lot more technically drawn out, like a battle. And 7s is shear fun, athleticism ... it’s two totally, totally different games.
It’s like chess vs checkers
“Anything can happen in seven minutes, but in a 15s game, you have to try and plan out games. Essentially, it’s a chess match vs checkers.”
In the traditional 15s game, Canada hasn’t been much of a factor on the world stage (ranked 17th in the recent IRB rankings).
It’s another matter with 7s, however, as Canada is sixth behind New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji, England and Australia.
“The 15s game is huge around the world,” Hearn said.
“That’s the big money-maker. But 7s is one of those games if you’re very familiar with the rugby game, you can watch a 7s game and have a good time and be enthused about it.
“That’s mainly one of the reasons they brought it into the Olympics — it’s a seven-minute game and anything can happen. You just look any of the (rugby) World Series standings the last few years, see how the different small-time teams like us, for instance, are making their way up the rankings.
“That’s one of the big catches of the game.”
Hearn won’t go on the record to share which game is more appealing to him, though it’s clear 7s — and the chance of an Olympic Games — has its appeal.
And the big difference would be a dozen pounds. He prefers to play 15s at around 227 pounds, 215 at 7s. That means dieting and cutting back on the weightlifting.
“You have to trim the fat, although there’s not much to cut,” he said. “You have to do what you have to do to be mobile out there because 7s is a short, fast moving and fast thinking game.”
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at email@example.com