- A new independent Professional Game Board (PGB) to oversee all aspects of the professional game
- Increased support from the IRFU based on recommendations of the new PGB
- Commitment from Leinster, Munster and Ulster to allow more movement of selected players to Connacht
The newly-constructed Connacht Professional Game Board (PGB) has been established with responsibility for all activities associated with the running of the professional game in the province for the next three years.
The board will be chaired by Jimmy Staunton, a Connacht businessman who has achieved nationwide success as founding partner of Elvery's Sports, the largest sports retailer in Ireland.
He will be joined on the board by a blend of experience from both the business and sports worlds and the remaining members of the board are:
• Conor McGuinness - former Connacht player and international scrum half
• Damian Devany - marketing consultant and former marketing director of O2
• Steve Cunningham - business consultant and former Connacht Branch President
• Pat O'Connor - Swinford solicitor and former President of the Law Society
• Liam Rattigan - managing partner of RBK Accountants
• Simon Heaslip - Galway businessman and entrepreneur
The board is independent of the Connacht Branch and IRFU but is accountable to the IRFU Management Committee.
The Connacht PGB, whose activities will also include generating additional commercial revenues, will have the responsibility to prepare the budget annually for agreement and approval by the IRFU.
A significant element of the new structures is that the Leinster, Ulster and Munster Branches have each provided a firm commitment to the initiative, which will involve movement of selected players from those provinces to Connacht.
This will allow Connacht to benefit from the playing talent from the other provincial academies and squads to develop the strength of Ireland-qualified players throughout all of the four provinces.
Additional support in the coaching and management assets of the Connacht squad will be provided to ensure increased competitiveness.
Philip Browne, the IRFU's Chief Executive, said: "In association with the Connacht Branch, the IRFU is delighted to formally unveil the new structures for professional rugby in Connacht.
"The formation of an independent Connacht Professional Game Board with responsibility for the running of the professional game is a new development in Irish rugby and one which we believe will operate for the betterment of the professional game in Connacht into the future.
"The Union and the Connacht Branch is in agreement that the new structure for the professional game will provide stability and a greater impetus for the Connacht squad.
"At the same time, the new arrangement will provide more value to the national squad by providing 'accelerated development' opportunities through guaranteed game-time for players who currently can not receive such opportunity in their home province.
"The commitment received by the other three provinces in the movement of players to Connacht is to be commended. It is a central element of the initiative."
Connacht Rugby Chief Executive Gerry Kelly said: "This new development represents a shot in the arm for professional rugby in Connacht.
"It is an endorsement by the IRFU that Connacht is a core element of the Irish rugby family and under the direction of the new Professional Game Board, and with the commitment of support from the other provinces, we believe that a bright and sustainable future is in store for professional rugby in the west."
The Chairman of the Connacht Professional Game Board, Jimmy Staunton, commented: "I am deeply honoured to be appointed as Chairman to the Connacht Professional Game Board. The Board consists of a wealth of knowledge and experience and to be a part of that, driving Connacht Rugby forward, is a huge privilege.
"We are all aware of the challenges we are facing but with the passion and dedication of my fellow board members, I am confident we can overcome any obstacles we may come across.
"The new structures in place at Connacht Rugby will make certain there is a viable and sustainable future for professional rugby in the province and with appropriate support, ensure a fair and equitable footing on the Irish rugby ladder.
"I am looking forward to working alongside CEO Gerry Kelly and head coach Eric Elwood as we embark on the next chapter in Connacht Rugby history."
Ireland head coach Declan Kidney was particularly pleased with the development, saying: "I think today's announcement is a big step for both Connacht and Irish rugby. I have always believed that the Ireland squad can only become stronger with four competitive provincial sides.
"Competition for places and in particular in a number of key positions has been something that we have been trying to develop with the Ireland squad over the last 18 months.
"This new development in Connacht can only add to this, as game-time is essential for the development of players."
A review is to be undertaken by the new Connacht PGB on current management, coaching structures and personnel with specific recommendations for any further structure to be discussed with and agreed by the IRFU.
The new structures announced today follow a request received from the Connacht Branch to undertake an examination of the game in Connacht.
Arising from discussions between delegates of the Connacht Branch and the IRFU Management Committee, it was agreed that an independent assessment should be conducted.
Specialist sports consultancy ASMT were appointed to conduct the evaluation and report jointly to Steve Cunningham, President of the Connacht Branch, and Finbarr Crowley, Chairman of the IRFU Management Committee.
The report involved a complete assessment of all areas of professional rugby in Connacht.