Weekend Interview: Lynch-pin for life outside rugby league for Castleford Tigers' Andy
FORTUNATELY, Andy Lynch has taken to retirement with the same ease as he did to learning about offloading a rugby ball.
It has been around seven months since the former Great Britain prop called time on his fine career, one which involved 452 Super League games with Castleford Tigers (two spells), Bradford Bulls and Hull FC.
Lynch was 37 when he pulled on the Castleford jersey for the final time last September but, unlike many, he does not still hanker for it. Not in the slightest.
“I don’t miss it and haven’t missed it, not one bit,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“I couldn’t be happier to be fair. My time was done.
“I knew at the start of last year – even though I hadn’t announced it – that I was finishing that season. I was looking forward to it. I finished on my terms, too.
“That’s the biggest thing; it’s not the same for all players. I knew when my contract was finishing and knew I was finishing then. There was no way anyone could have changed my mind. I don’t think anyone would have tried to anyway but I wouldn’t have changed it to go back playing anywhere.”
What if Tigers came calling now after a tough Easter period facing a front-row injury crisis?
“No chance. I started walking over the training field on Easter Monday after that game (against Warrington) and came straight back off it thinking: ‘I’m not walking on that bog!’
“It baffled me a bit when I initially finished. I didn’t go mad or anything but I went to the gym two weeks after and suddenly thought: ‘Why am I here?’
“I’d nothing to work for. So I had a sauna and went home. Now I’ve got in a bit of a routine where I know what I’m doing every week which makes it easier.
“When you’ve been told for 20 years you have got to do this and you have to find something to do on your own it is a big challenge.
“But I think I needed a bit of time off as well.”
Lynch had that before taking on his new role of player welfare manager at Castleford.
It is a position that is now compulsory for all Super League clubs to have and part of its remit is to help players prepare for retirement.
Not all players are as fortunate as Lynch once it all ends; many do still hanker for the game, the comradeship, the daily routine having almost become institutionalised during their playing careers.
A player welfare manager will help get players ready for that transition, whether setting them on training courses, helping with finances or looking for prospective employers, but another major part of the role is, essentially, simply to be a sounding board.
Just like in all walks of life, rugby players can have all sorts of issues whether that is mental health, alcohol, drugs, gambling… the list goes on.
Lynch, who spends one day per week on a counselling course at college as part of his own training, explained: “The way the game is going currently everyone does need a welfare officer.
“It can stop or prevent things from happening if you’re around the players and they do have things wrong that they want to talk about.
“But it’s all across the board with different things. It was a bit frustrating to start with. A lot of it is standing about and when the lads are there you do feel a spare part at times.
“I know I’ve just gone from a player to a welfare officer… a job... so it is different. But you’re starting your life again.
“It’s a case of the lads gaining trust in you. I know I’ve played so long with them but this is different. I’m not one of them any more; I’m into a normal working life and it takes time to build up trust.
“But I look back over the years and see how many players have finished and never really had any advice even with basic things like money and mortgages.
“Now things are being put in place so that transition is easier. A big ‘thank you’ has to go to Emma Rosewarne at the RFL for pushing this and Cas’ and all the clubs for buying into it.”
Lynch, 38, says some players seek his advice more than others.
“Cooky is onto me all the time,” he said, about the Tigers prop, who started at Bradford and won the World Club Challenge with Lynch when a teenager in 2006.
“That’s standard. What can he get? Owt for nowt?!
“He wants to make money wherever he can that one but I think he has enough under his mattress anyway...!
“But it is good. I’m enjoying it. I’m here every day so wherever they are training I’ll try to get down and see them then be back at the ground when they’re here.”
Lynch has been told of the signs to look out for when a player may need help and he added: “Being around the lads so much, and having chit-chats every day, you find little things out all the time.
“The main thing is being around them and making sure they’re happy in all aspects.
“Hopefully, they’re then in the best possible shape Sunday afternoon – or whenever they play – to play. If I can do anything to help or take any pressure off at all, I’ll do that.
“But there’s all sorts. If they want to do a joinery course I’ll look to sort that or one of the lads is doing a business management course so it’s a case of going out and helping source that.”
Leeds-born Lynch, meanwhile, is keeping busy out of work, too.
He will run the London Marathon later this month time with a group of friends for the charity Phab kids.
It is the first time he has attempted such a distance but it has also just been announced he will undertake the 300-mile UK Red Ride to Wembley from Old Trafford in Challenge Cup final week for Rugby League Cares.
He laughed: “It’s another challenge isn’t it?
“As soon as the marathon’s finished I’ll get my bike out and start training for that. I think you do have to challenge yourself, set goals and I have always wanted to do a marathon but never been able to before now. It’s exciting.”
It was not long ago, though, that Lynch, who trained as a joiner as a teenager before breaking through at Castleford, was planning to emigrate Down Under for retirement with his Australian wife and three kids.
He explained: “We were all set to go and I was excited.
“But then obviously April (wife) decided against it. She’s got a cake business that’s going really well and just her friends she’s got to know over here...
“So, that left me gutted – and running a marathon and doing a bike ride in the rain and wet instead of the sunshine!
“But I think April did do it partly for me; she didn’t know what to expect when I finished playing, how I’d react and what would come next.
“Never say never, though. When the kids get older it could be time to go then but we’ve had a house built now and we’re all settled so who knows?”