What Does Irish Club Rugby Really Mean?

DOORADOYLE

Two pillars of Irish club rugby, Garryowen and Young Munster, do battle. (c) Liam Coughlan.

The IRFU published their Club Sustainability Report last month, after a year of investigating the subject of payment to club players. While the central objective was addressing the development of what the report dubs a “pay for play” culture, the findings pose several questions about the general purpose of Irish club rugby, and where it is heading. The IRFU need to fully address these issues before imposing financial constraints and other criteria upon the clubs.

The report’s foreword includes mention that the Working Party (the committee in charge of conducting the report, including Billy Glynn and Ian McIlrath) members “had different perspectives on the future direction of club rugby.” Indeed, the report admits that its recommendations “were not endorsed unanimously by all members of the Working Party.” Clearly, this is a divisive issue and one that is going to take some time to be fully understood.

Regardless, the report’s recommendations have been taken on board by the IRFU and will be implemented from the 2014/15 season onwards. Amongst the changes, payments to club players will be prohibited, transfers will be strictly controlled and clubs will have to meet minimum qualifying criteria to earn involvement in the All Ireland League. Most of these changes have been explained in depth elsewhere in the media over the past week, so it’s not worth outlining each of them here.

What hasn’t really been explained or discussed is how these changes might affect club rugby in Ireland and those deeply involved in the game. The report mentions that “[f]or some time the IRFU has been working with stakeholders within schools and clubs in agreeing and defining the values of Irish Rugby.” Subsequently, those values have been listed as Integrity, Discipline, Inclusiveness, Excellence and Fun. On first reading it’s a balanced list, but when you really look at these values, there are inherent contradictions.

UCD Rugby

UCD have earned promotion to Division 1A of the AIL this season, featuring several players who aspire to play professional rugby. (c) smcclaw.

The report accepts that “the genie of professionalism is out of the bottle and cannot be replaced”. It also acknowledges that to remove all player payments “would be to militate against those clubs which have the desire to reward players and which have the necessary resources to do so.” But are the new changes not trying to replace that genie? The rulings are certain to militate against some clubs.

Two of the values mentioned above are Excellence and Discipline. The fact is that several Irish clubs run themselves in a professional way. Their players are disciplined in their pursuit of excellence. Supervised gym sessions, meetings with nutritionists and video analysis are part of the schedule. The time and effort that goes into it, particularly from players, surely deserves some reward? Does the IRFU want the All Ireland League to serve as a breeding ground for professional players? And if not, where is the playing space for those players who have professional ambitions?

Professional rugby has changed how amateur clubs and players see themselves. Sport at adult level has always been about winning, but professionalism has made it the priority. Some clubs are now aspiring to a “level which cannot be sustained.” That is backed up by the debt figures included in the IRFU’s report. But where do you draw the line for these ambitious clubs who are over-reaching? Aspiring for Excellence is one of the IRFU’s values. Can you really tell a club that they should focus on Inclusiveness and Fun rather than trying to rise as high as possible?

TOM CLIFFORD PARK

Lansdowne, under Mike Ruddock, were Division 1A Champions this season. (c) Liam Coughlan.

The transfer of players between clubs is one of the main focus points of the report. Player loyalty is suggested as vital, with the recommendation that players “should be encouraged to remain with their ‘mother’ club”. Much like the recent ruling at Munster Schools level on player transfers, this is a topic that needs more debate. Why should a talented player not seek to play at a higher level, to pursue Excellence as best he can? For that individual, would it not be more Fun to benefit from playing with better players and train under better coaches?

If the IRFU are going to clamp down on player transfers, then how do they offset the disgruntlement that might arise? Is there enough being done to ensure that coaching levels across the country are fulfilling the value of Excellence? If players are going to stay with their local club, are they really being given the chance to pursue their ambitions? The report suggests that payment to club coaches should continue, as long as it “encourages the recruitment and development of indigenous coaching expertise.” There’s another contradiction in that. Does payment to Irish players not encourage the development of indigenous playing expertise?

It’s a highly debatable topic and one that certainly needs further discussion. Some of the changes set to be implemented may be impossible to actually enforce. If last year’s rulings on non Irish-qualified player numbers at provincial level (and the subsequent lack of clarity) are anything to go by, then this subject is far from decided.

Please feel free to post your opinions on the proposed changes, the values of Irish club rugby and the direction you would like to see it going. It would be interesting to hear different perspectives on the matter, so leave a comment below.

Read the full IRFU Club Sustainability Report here.

——————–

Photos: Liam Coughlan, smcclaw.

34 responses to “What Does Irish Club Rugby Really Mean?

  1. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

    I can’t see what is actually going to change. Some clubs have their house in order, others don’t. The IRFU are going give all the clubs more work to do as they try and comply with the 46 criteria, diverting efforts from fundraising etc…
    The bigger clubs will pay guys’ rent, give them jobs, cars or pay education fees in an effort to compensate their efforts at maintaining a high performance level so the club can advance or maintain a league position.
    There are so many ways of getting the money into the players pockets it will be impossible to police. It will also take a huge amount of time and money to attempt policing properly.
    They’d be better off implementing a structure that utilises the domestic game for the betterment of our provincial and international efforts.

    If the IRFU are going to continue to allow universities to play with everyone else while they they are paying scholarships to players who are only U21 level there will never be balance and their efforts appear hypocritical.

    As Thornley points out on a frequent basis. ‘The IRFU see the clubs as distribution points for international tickets’

    Scarp the B&I cup, keep an ‘A’ level inter-pro comp and streamline the AIL. Div 1A+B are the only ones that should be travelling nationwide for league games.

    Bit of a word vomit, but there you go.

    • Div 1A & 1B should be the only ones travelling for games? Nonsense, part of the enjoyment of ail are the away days and banter on the bus. Not sure how transfers would be policed, should you be forced to stay with your ‘mother club’ if you cant get on? Scrapping the B&I cup would be ridiculous, look at the exposure young players get from it….

      • The report says that a committee would study each transfer. Presumably this would be to ensure that no signing-on fees or incentives had changed hands. But how would they even go about doing that? You’d almost need to investigate the player’s bank accounts, etc. to see if they had received anything ‘under the table’ so to speak. Very, very hard to police.

      • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

        The bus is fun, but the bus is expensive and is one of the main complaints when clubs are asked about finances. Funding a team to play all over Ireland is not cheap.

        “Forced to stay with your ‘mother club’ if you cant get on” Thanks for that, didn’t realize I was bound to have to stay with any one team. Can’t change because of work location etc… Totally impractical. If a club wants to hold onto its talent, they should develop loads of it and then it will stay and play together.

        Exposure of B&I cup. Yes they get used to a bit of travel for games, they play in front of very small crowds and there seems to be a lot of high scores from our provinces while the competition is often not up to much. This doesn’t do much for game management.

  2. Some great points Cillian, thanks for that. I totally agree that it’s going to be borderline impossible for the IRFU to actually police these proposed changes. It would cost a fortune to even try to ensure that all clubs were complying and that money could certainly be spent better elsewhere, possibly at building uniform levels of coaching quality across all levels.

    In terms of the idea of an ‘A’ level inter-pro tournament, would there be enough games involved in that? If you’re looking at just home and away fixtures, is it enough rugby? There’s been a gap in between AIL rugby and the senior provincial sides for some time now, needs looking at.

  3. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

    AIL is of a much higher standard than the general population give credit. 1A and the top half of 1B at least. If there were far less stringent rules on how many contracted pros can be on the pitch at any one time the standard would improve further still.
    Many AIL players unable to make it professionally in Ireland have made considerable impressions on the Championship.
    If they had had a better club platform some would have made one of the provinces or at least had better highlight reels to give agents when they looked abroad for a paying gig.

    I’d also argue that the A system is too familiar for players and they’d benefit the national team by being used to switching between club and provincial game plans, as they should be doing from province to Ireland.
    It would be more work for provincial coaches as they’d have to watch more tape but less time travelling with their A team.

    IRFU could do with a kick up the backside when it comes to scheduling the League. AIL games at the same time as Ireland are playing is crazy. Last I heard prize money for winning the League and being the best club side in Ireland is €10,000. That doesn’t cover strapping for a season

    As of right now the evidence suggests that the IRFU just don’t care and this all lip service

    • You’re spot on about the level being higher than people give credit for. You give the example of AIL players making an impression on the English Championship.

      Having spent a year playing rugby in France myself, and having taken in plenty of games at other levels, I can safely say that lots of AIL 1A and 1B players would make big impressions there also. They’d make good money out of it, more than enough not to have to work another job. If the IRFU do look to impose these changes, then I wouldn’t blame a single player for looking at the option.

      If you look at a guy like James Hart, who didn’t make it into Leinster’s academy after playing U20 level, but has now started Top 14 games for Grenoble, it says a lot. As you say, a better club platform would give guys a better chance to play professionally.

  4. Having read the article, I fully agree with your sentiment, maybe I thought you were even a little lenient with your criticism of the IRFU. I think its possibly the worst decision the IRFU could make. It will serve to drive the standard of rugby down dramatically in my opinion.
    Firstly indigenous players who were assisted by their clubs in making ends meets while training/playing hard and looking to get a provincial contract will no longer be able to do so forcing them to give up on their aspirations.
    It will bring the average age of senior players down further as many ”9-5 day job” professionals will no longer see the benefit in playing as they only risk injury and sacrifice on potential earnings from overtime in these jobs (I see this happening all the time already). The only players that will remain will be students as this trend continues.
    I’ve heard it said that Landsdown bought the league this year. Ok they paid players well, but they also drove the standard of the league to a level where it was absolutely impossible to pick out the contracted players from the flock. Isn’t this high standard something that should be encouraged.
    I know I feel strongly about this, and ironically this is all coming from a player who didn’t receive a cent despite playing 1A all year.
    Do you think this is set in stone or is there scope for them to do a U turn on this?
    Otherwise ALL Players who are just off a professional contract and have aspirations will be joining the french divisions where thier efforts will be rewarded.

    • Really interesting to hear from someone who has been playing in 1A this season, and a very understandable viewpoint.

      For me, what the changes the IRFU have outlined are really not set in stone. As others have commented, how can you really ensure that no payments are being made? As Cillian says above, at the moment it seems as though the IRFU are simply hoping to be seen as doing something, without actually making real changes.

      In terms of a club like Lansdowne paying players, they are of course not the only ones doing it. As you say, the fact that the standard this season was high was a real positive, and should definitely be encouraged.

      The report included the idea of an Open League and an Amateur League. The Open league would allow clubs to reward players’ efforts financially, with the other league allowing no rewards whatsoever. As some clubs simply do not have the revenue to support player payments, maybe something like this is worth considering again.

  5. I agree with them getting rid of payments. But the structure of the league has to change. There needs to be more floodlit games and increase in subs from 5 to 8. The provinces need to realise that the league can be used as a source of players for the professional game rather than just using the academies and the schools. The standard has been has been proven by the amount of players moving to national 1 in England . Clubs are producing players for the provinces but are getting little in return. The clubs should be paid for every player they produce.

    • Cheers for the comments Fintan, and a different viewpoint. Do you not think that getting rid of payments would reduce the quality of the leagues? Someone above commented that guys who have regular jobs won’t risk getting injured if they’re not being remunerated at all. Is that a danger?

      If the provinces are going to use the clubs as a source for players then is it worth looking at a system where the top clubs continue to reward players, allowing them to continue training as hard as some of them do. Below that, you would have an amateur league with no payments.

      Looking at countries like New Zealand (with the ITM Cup) and South Africa (Currie Cup/Vodacom Cup) and also their use of 7s, there are more definite steps in between being a talented young player and playing Super Rugby.

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

      If a club or school has been involved in the development of a player up to the point of receiving a professional contract in Ireland they receive a payment. It’s not loads.
      If memory serves me from seeing a document about 3 years ago, Clongowes got roughly 5k from the IRFU for developing Rob Kearney to the point of receiving a contract straight from school. Bective got something much smaller for Sexton as he only played his mini rugby there before Marys (school and club) became the his chief developers.

  6. Like I said, the IRFU are too concerned with getting theAIL back to its community and amateur ethos roots rather then spend the money on marketing the league better. Examples off this has been seen with limits being put on the amount of contracted players allowed play club rugby and this is so that more money can be put into the academy and A structured. the majority of the revenue generated is through the national team. Resources are then allocated(extremely small percentage can’t remember of the top of my head) to the development of the club and within that and even smaller percent is for the marketing of the league. As can be seen each week it’s really only local journalist s who give theAIL exposure it deserves and needs, national papers only do a small amount and this is not their fault. The blame is with the clubs themselves and the IRFU. With regard the IRFU they have looked at initiatives such as Friday night lights to attract new support and gain more exposure. The issue is no marketing strategy can succeed without money being put into and because the league doesn’t make money it’s not prioritised. If they looked seriously into the possibility of televising the division throughout a season as I have they could turn the league into a product that could make then money and benefit the game at club and provincial level in the long term.
    I know, bit of rant put something Im passionate about

    • Another different viewpoint, but equally understandable. Not a rant at all, great to hear from people who really care about the club game in Ireland.

      It’s hard to disagree with you saying that the IRFU could do more to promote and market the All Ireland League. There’s very little coverage of it, but realistically if the league remains in it’s current format, caught somewhere between being amateur and aspiring to produce professional players and coaches, how easy is it for media to get on board.

      But there’s definitely more that could be done to attract new rugby fans towards the club game. Someone above mentioned the fact that AIL games can sometimes be on at the same time as 6 Nations games. That’s just crazy.

      For a new supporter of rugby, being made to feel involved in a club could make encourage them a lifelong affiliation. At the moment, does someone with a relatively recent interest in rugby even know about the AIL?

  7. Just a few things Murray. While i accept what you’re saying about it being unfair on players looking to develop their game, you have to consider the clubs view as well. Some lads have been with clubs from the age of 4 and the clubs have invested a lot in their development so to see them move to another club can be tough for them to take.

    Also a lot of players are taken from clubs right before they’re ready to step up to senior level. The actions of the top clubs has a knock on effect then because other clubs then need to find replacements. The “pay for play” culture is not only among the top teams. If clubs didn’t need to find replacements then they would have more money to invest in their underage systems. They may also be a bit more inclined to invest in underage development if they new all the players were gonna stick around.

    And there are benefits for players with these measures as well. One of the problems with the “pay for play” culture is that with the best players leaving the smaller clubs at the age of 18,19 it leaves the lads left behind in a worse position because their teams suffer and their development suffers as they lose the opportunity to play with good players. I think the fact that a lot of lads give up the game after 20’s probably has to do with the disparagement this brings about. The more players involved in clubs the better in my opinion, no matter their ambitions or standard.

    In saying that, while all these things would help encourage the growth of rugby at club level long term, in the short term it is hard to see how they won’t have a negative effect on the development of pro players because the big clubs play a huge role in preparing the best young lads to be pros. At the moment smaller clubs just can’t provide the sort of pro atmosphere that those clubs have so they’ll definitely have to strike some sort of balance there.

  8. Ciaran O'Kane

    All fair points lads. From a personal point of view I don’t think the AIL works anymore. The financial resource required to run a team in the league are colossal, nobody has quantified this in any of the comments or indeed in the IRFU document. I think people might be singing a different tune if they knew it could cost anywhere upwards of £100k pa to run a first team at the top level. Thats just the 1st XV! Club membership fees just about cover insurance payments to the IRFU, then there are facilities costs equipment etc. if you have a club with 5 senior teams a full youth compliment and mini rugby all of a sudden you are into a couple of hundred thousand to run your club. Would Landsdowne have been in a position to ‘buy the league’ if they didn’t have a cash injection post Aviva? What exactly is the financial model for the teams with their ‘house in order’ that lets teams travel up and down the country and get paid for it? I don’t think there are models that are sustainable. Just clubs with big pots of cash from selling land, rich benefactors etc. I loved my days playing in the AIL. The craic was unreal but the desire to compete is pushing clubs further into financial difficulties. There is so much to rugby outs

  9. I don’t see any harm in giving players a little bonus for playing games if clubs are able to do so without going into debt. It’s nice for players to be somewhat re-embersed for the hours they put in on the pitch and in the gym. The difficulty lies in the money pushing clubs into debt or in players only wanting to play for a club team that they can get the most money from.

    It seems to me like clubs are no longer able to sustain the payments that have been going on during the boom. It’s funny that people mention Lansdowne in the same breath as club money every time it comes up. They are not actually paying players a lot of money but have instead invested their money into having a great club house, club ethos and coaching set up. There was more money for players in UL Bohs and UCD in my times with them. In fact, of the 15 players on the team in the league-winning game against Clontarf, 11/12 played with Lansdowne underage before any money was even involved. The best clubs are built upon the solid foundation of a good club who play good rugby and that people are attracted to play for. Lansdowne, more than most, have learned that paying big money to players hasn’t been the route to success in club rugby.

    I think it’s good to have sustainability rules in place as money had been getting over the top. The amateur ethos is also good and I can see why it would be better to have players playing for clubs that they have an allegiance with rather than ones that offer them a car or money.

  10. Ciaran O'Kane

    Continued

    Outside of AIL 1. These clubs are only the tip of the rugby pyramid in terms of playing numbers. Guys want to play rugby because it’s what we love to do. If there was £50-£100 in your bank account at the end of the week sure that was just a bonus. We need a radical overhaul in my opinion.

  11. Yes, club rugby and its role in a professional era is a vexed topic. But so it was, albeit to a lesser degree, in the amateur days.

    Some observations. The Provincial academies certainly have produced some fine specimens of rugby players but how big is their (Academies) base source? If dominated by the elite rugby schools, very small. And exactly how good are their products? I’m not convinced that those coming to the fore now are the equals to the Ireland players of 2000 – 2010. Skill is essential but so is battle hardness. And the club environment at provincial and national levels provided that for virtually all Irish club players.

    Looking at the encouragement and inclusion of all players, that was traditionally the preserve if Junior clubs and the 4ths+ of Senior clubs. The Leagues structures of the last two decades might have mitigated against those values. A game that always had a social element took on a more GAA-like total competitiveness but without the natural exposure of that organisation.

    At small-town levels all across Ireland – indeed in non ex-schools clubs in cities, the noughties saw really large influxes into minis and youth teams based obviously on the successes of Provinces and the National teams. But numbers are dwindling reflective, I believe, of two main factors. A more realistic reflection of the true interest level in the game and a wide-spread focus on winning at all levels as opposed to the encouragement and nurturing of potential as opposed to size, aggression and skill.

    The true feeders of rugby talent into the professional ranks are the rugby schools and the network of clubs and to ignore the development potential of either is extremely short-sighted. Just as is the ignoring of latent talent within all of those feeders.

    The cities are the focuses of the larger, ‘Senior’ clubs. But why not look at a competition structure for County selections? Where the representatives would be selected from Junior clubs within Counties at various age-groups? The clubs perhaps should primarily compete within Counties allowing more time and focus on encouraging and developing individuals of all abilities and potential.

  12. @Fintan Richardson, the point re increasing subs might work for big clubs (like your beloved Garryowen!) but for smaller cubs who struggle to field seconds teams its not feasible, I really hate the comments such as the ones made by @ Ciaran O’Kane re the AIL not working, The AIL is a quality league enjoyed by 90% of the players accross the 4 divisions, look at the competition from the junior ranks to get in. I play 2A rugby and get a few bob, totally agree with Cian Aherne (one of the top players in the AIL!) re payments unless clubs are in debt. If clubs spend money recklessly then they will be punished, same as in any other league. The AIL is a great competition, and should be promoted more rather than have to deal with the negativity thrown its way from the media and people that know very little about it

  13. Another problem with paying players is that it contributes to the AIL becoming semi-professional. What I mean is that some guys are earning enough from playing rugby that they essentially are ‘professional.’ They can condition themselves far better than a guy working 9-5 in an office or wherever. That’s also what I think is a big issue regarding payments.

    I’ve played in 2A the last few seasons and the conditioning of the players is fairly consistent throughout most teams. I’ve watched plenty of 1A and 1B games where it’s pretty obvious guys are in almost professional condition. There’s plenty of teams in 2A capable of matching some 1A/1B teams in terms of skill. Conditioning is another issue altogether and I think paying guys to play definitely contributes to this.

    • But does the IRFU want to discourage that? Do they view the top two divisions as a place to potentially draw provincial players from? If so, then financial rewards for players keeping themselves professionally conditioned is surely the right thing.

      If not, and the IRFU want the AIL to be completely amateur, where is that playing space for a guy who missed out on an academy contract but still wants to work towards being a professional rugby player.

      Not trying to attack your point of view at all, just trying to figure out what exactly the IRFU see as the main role of the AIL?

      • The talk of money here is a bit inaccurate, I’d say there is possibly 5/6 players in the AIL who you could conceive as maybe getting upwards of 6,000/7,000 a year but that just doesn’t happen any more really. 50-150 per game is the most any club is paying. The AIL is great for breeding young talent – how else would the likes of James Coughlan, Craig Ronaldson, Barry O’Mahoney and Ivan Dineen have caught the eye of provincial selectors? To say it ‘doesn’t work’ is odd in this respect. In accordance with comparisons to the ITM cup, I think ail could really push for having something like a national 7s team of ail players – Australia and Scotland do something similar. The standard of the ail is close to A rugby with many provincial players not even standing out when they come to play club games

  14. First of all, the structure of the AIL is the result of the union’s consultation with the clubs. In other words, the clubs have opted for it. This seems to get strangely overlooked in discussions like these. Secondly, the clubs don’t develop the young prospective talent, the schools do so in the majority if cases.
    It all comes down to MONEY and many clubs over the past 15 or so years have been reckless with their access to it in as both borrower and recipient of sponsorship. My old club (whose names I shall refrain from posting) owes a staggering €800,000 and has barely two sponsors left! Hardly a cent (or penny) has been put into facilities. What is there has been taken for granted. The clubhouse has hardly changed since I last played there over 25 years ago. Pitch surface requires huge expenditure each year due to overuse as not only the main playing pitch but training pitch. This is due to no floodlighting on other pitches thus prohibiting training on them during long evenings of autumn and winter. The club nearby where I now live is content in the league they’re in, is welcoming to new members, has invested in clubhouse, facilities, pitches, lighting etc and is buzzing.
    Cian Aherne, above, mentions the Lansdowne clubhouse. This was given to Lansdowne in addition to a ridiculous amount of money as ‘compensation’ for a run down old shack at the corner of Lansdowne road’s pitch. Wanderers too did well out of this.
    Clubs should ask themselves what their purpose in life is. To bustle as a busy great social centre around rugby while still having leagues to compete in, or . . . ‘invest’ in senior team and U21 for the main part and run the financial risk that comes with this kind of blind spending.
    Clubs whinge about lack of financing. They’ve actually enjoyed PLENTY of financing and are now suffering as a consequence through reckless borrowing for paying coaches or the plenthora of passing Kiwis/Sth Africans/Aussies through the country. If you go for broke, expect to go broke. Next step, if survival is still to be persisted with and you still want a club when up to eyeballs in debt, is the MERGE. Watching silverhaired club blazers blanche when that word is mentioned. I’m no lover of our dear governing body, but the situtation has come to the point where SUSTAINABILITY is doubtful for many clubs and that is certainly not the fault of anyone but themselves, given the money pit that has been witnessed over the past couple of decades. The only people who care about club rugby are players and members. Locals are not interested. The media isn’t interested bar a couple of ‘outrage’ articles per year. Selling off ticket allocations at a premium to visiting international rugby supporters or borrowing beyond means can only go this far.

    • Thanks for the post Alf. I completely understand that “the structure of the AIL is the result of the union’s consultation with the clubs” and haven’t overlooked that fact. But I also understand that some clubs have been run by people who aren’t entirely sure of what they’re doing. As the report mentions, many clubs have aspired to a “level which cannot be sustained.”

      Should the IRFU, with presumably higher levels of expertise in the financial side of running rugby clubs, not have been dictating to the clubs the lack of financial viability of overspending when it was happening?

      I completely and totally agree with you saying: “Clubs should ask themselves what their purpose in life is. To bustle as a busy great social centre around rugby while still having leagues to compete in, or . . . ‘invest’ in senior team and U21 for the main part and run the financial risk that comes with this kind of blind spending.”

      I think that’s a central issue here. Should there be a clearer divide between these two different ambitions?

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

      Alf you’ve mentioned that the clubs have opted for this.
      There are 52 senior clubs + the demoted clubs from 2B maintaining voting rights for a period.
      20 are either 1A/1B leaving 26+ other voters. It is going to be impossible for consensus to be agreed upon. As the lower teams have greater voting numbers, any proposals which might push them further away from the top teams will be met with staunch opposition.
      The IRFU keep banging on about the national team. If they were serious, closing the gap between top clubs and provinces will stand to benefit them.

      I can recall tales of the professional rugby scramble of certain clubs pushing as hard as possible to compete in Europe. Thankfully this didn’t happen and the provinces tapped the greater public finances that have allowed us to compete and win.
      The IRFU stepped up then and acted strongly in the interest of the national teams performances, since then not much has happened in terms of structural changes.

      • Alf Johnson

        Thats why the IRFU went to the clubs (including my old one and current one) over the past two years. Consensus was obviously obtained here.

        Someone mentioned earlier that the union should ‘market’ the club game better. A bit simplistic for a solution to the problem which a large number of clubs have ensured affects them. Firstly the club game is almost beyond marketing. I reckon the Irish union have done very well in not only gaining sponsorship but finding a replacement for AIB once AIB ducked out. In addition, there is only so much funding the governing body can give. The money pit has to stop or clubs will never learn. Nobody really cares about the club game except club past and present members. That’s why attendance is poor, media coverage so woeful. Even the anonymous internet commentators in rugby forums or on Twitter for example only really ever post about the club game when there is something to moan about. The club game is in trouble because a) clubs borrowed beyond means, lost the run of themselves with money then the bust came, b) drink driving laws being (thankfully) enforced so clubhouses far quieter and c) because people prefer to watch professionals play.
        Face it not enough punters care. It is now up to many many clubs to stop expecting things to be sorted for them and change their business model. If they don’t have one then just give up and leave it to someone else, merge with another or just fold up and put itself out of its misery.

        In addition to these measures being taken by the IRFU, clubs should start a new era by regionalising again and shortening the AIL league season allowing for all Ireland playoffs. Clubs are not as vital to the professional teams or Academies that they like to think they are. There aren’t really any AIL players I can think of that I’d put forward for an Academy place myself.
        Clubs will also have to get used to the idea though that TV viewers, casual rugby followers and the pundits aren’t really bothered about them.

  15. I’m a Div 1A player in Munster, we get 100 quid win bonus per game. As a student who is about to finish up in college I would absolutely not play on if there wasn’t an incentive, training on the pitch twice a week an in the gym twice a week followed by a game Saturday, which may take up your whole day, and maybe even involvement in a seconds game if you don’t start on the Saturday, isn’t worth it when one considers working life and other relationships if there isn’t a small incentive, even enough to pay for your Saturday night out with the lads.
    Also after that if small incentives like this are abolished the standard of the league and numbers playing will be decreased, resulting in a bigger gap between academy/development/senior squad fringe players and those playing AIL. What are the safety considerations of this e.g Pro prop Vs amateur prop? At present amateurs can handle it, in 1A anyway, because we train out asses off, not sure if that would last if their wasn’t a small incentive.
    Also – great point re the Universities, does that mean they can’t pay scholarships? And are clubs who have established paying academies now to abandon them?

    • Regarding the Universities, the report states that any sports scholarships must fall in line with the changes for other clubs sides. That means that scholarships for rugby would not be allowed.

      However, it goes on to say that, “Scholarships provided by third level institutions which are based on academic achievement fall outside the
      remit of the IRFU” so I’m sure there are ways of designating a rugby scholarship as academic. Although it goes on to say, “The Working Party believes that there should be on-going review of academic scholarships”.

      Under the report’s recommendations, the clubs couldn’t have paying academies, or provide accommodation/cars for it’s young players. Again, there’s probably ways around this. How do the IRFU actually ensure it’s not being done?

  16. Having played in the AIL for over 10 seasons, i think it has to remain. We need to bear in mind, the number of current international who ‘cut their teeth’ at this level, just take Ulster as an example, Best, Henry, Bowe, Trimble, Jackson, Marshall and Henderson have all, early in their careers turned out regularly in the AIL.
    Clubs need to get their own house in order when it comes to finances, for 11 senior clubs to have debts of over 500,000 euros, is ridiculous.
    It is very difficult to police payments as there are too many ways around the issue.
    An interesting side note comes from the Super XV last week, Highlanders had a free week, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock both turned out for their club side.(Ulster qualifying 1 standard) simply because they enjoy playing rugby- a point which is all too often forgotten.

  17. Ciaran O'Kane

    @Anonymous and Cillian, when I stated my opinion that the “AIL doesnt work anymore” I wasnt referring to the standard of the rugby and it being a production line for the pro game. Its still vital in this respect, no doubt about that.The rugby in the AIL is fantastic, I played in it for 15 years and in all of the leagues and miss it now that i’m crocked and retired!! I got to play with and against some of great players and forged some great friendships over the years. I just think it doesnt work for rugby clubs as a whole and in the fact its tearing alot of them apart. As players and ex players its easy to stay focused on the Senior squad but there is so much other rugby that goes on beneath this which is vital to a clubs (and the game of rugby’s) survival and success. This all needs money and lots of it.

    The race for success puts the clubs under massive finacial strain. At the working group meeting in Ravenhill someone likened it to the middle east, ” they have nuclear weapons, so i need nuclear weapons. They pay players so we have to pay players”. A stance often taken by people, as mentioned by another poster above, who arent really sure what they are doing in trying to run their club and make club succesful. This is the road to nowhere.

    The drive for amateur status is being led by the clubs themselves not the IRFU. The Munster clubs were the first to be consulted and by all accounts were the most vociferous on the issue. I know now from moving into the backrooms at my home club, what is involved to make sure you can keep the lights on, doors open and make sure all of our kids are going to get the opportunities we had to play the game. I think we have to get to a sustainable position whilst ensuring the best can continue to rise to the top.

  18. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

    Do people prefer to watch any of the provincial A teams play the likes of Bristol or Pontypridd over one of the Limerick or Dublin derby games? (I’ve only watched one A game and that was because Brad Thorn was playing)

    I don’t think clubs are asking for more money from the IRFU. Well they always ask, but they don’t expect it, nor should they. The issue as far as I see it is that the steps the IRFU have taken over the last few years are strangling what’s left out of the club game.

    The removal of the playoffs in 1A has denied any league sponsor their showpiece. Two semis and a Final were great for advertising. The last final was a great advert for the league Con v Belvo (even if Peter O’Mahony was playing on the wing). Deccie was there with his coaching staff as was Joe Schmidt and his coaching team along with a lot of the games professional players showing their support for the occasion.
    Last year Tarf v Marys and Marys v Young Munster were shown (both great games to watch). Sounds good but the large portion of the audience were either at their own club games or they watched those broadcasted games at the expense of paying to see their own club live, and missing a pre-match lunch or a pint or two after. This all ads up to a bigger dent in the clubs ability to generate their own finances.
    This year we saw Lansdowne v Tarf and while the game was a great watch, the league was already all but won.

    The biggest issue is having 1st team club games on the same day as Ireland v whoever.

    Season 2012/’13
    IRE v SA 10/11/’12(Sat). 1A clubs play on Friday evening. Minor issue. How much money are people expected to pay out on a single weekend’s rugby?

    IRE v FIJI 17/11/’12. 1A have 3 games same day, other 2 (Limerick games on Sunday)

    IRE v Argentia 24/11/’12, no clash.

    Wales v IRE 2/2/’13. Two 1A games on the Friday evening, 3 games clash on Saturday

    IRE v ENG 10/2/’13(Sun). No clash with 1A, they didn’t play that weekend.

    Scotland v IRE 24/2/’13(Sun). No direct clash with 1A playing Friday evening (1) and Saturday (4). The other 6N games did take place that Saturday.

    IRE v FRA 9/3/13. Just one 1A game that weekend clashing on the same day.

    Italy v IRE 16/3/13. All 5 1A games clashed on that day.

    • Makes no difference when the internationals are scheduled. Clubs are free to re-arrange kickoff times and any with an ounce of savvy and an eye for an opportunity, in fact do. Re-arranging kickoff times on a match day, especially for away games, is a carrot for a busy clubhouse. If a club does nothing about this, then that’s their loss. The year is only so long and the season within it. Perspective. 6nations v a domestic competition in Ireland? No contest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s