The Donegal Project was officially launched on Thursday, October 18, 2007 in Jackson's Hotel, Ballybofey with a large gathering of representatives from the four clubs in Donegal, namely Ballyshannon, Donegal Town, Inishowen and Letterkenny, together with those from a number of primary and secondary schools in the county as well as members of the public and senior officials from the IRFU and Ulster Branch.
Speaking at the launch of the Irish Sports Council's funding for the IRFU, GAA and FAI, IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne pointed out that, in one of the most successful years for Irish rugby, 'success of this nature does not occur over night.'
"It is the development work within the clubs and schools in Ireland, which is directly supported by the Irish Sports Council, which lays down the foundations for sustained success, something that Ireland coach Declan Kidney openly acknowledged on that wonderful night in Cardiff in March," he said.
"It is the partnership with the Irish Sports Council which allows the IRFU to operate and deliver a number of programmes to support our volunteers in affiliated clubs, schools and third level institutions to increase participation.
"The Union is presently entering the second year of a four year strategy to increase the number of quality games played by our youth and adults.
"Focusing on the number of games played ensures that we remain focused on what is at the heart of the Irish game, and where our successful Six Nations team originated from: the community rugby club."
Commenting on the progress of the Donegal Project, Browne added: "Through the Rugby Development Officers working with the four local clubs and delivering rugby programmes in 57 primary and secondary schools in the county of Donegal, interest and awareness of the game has grown significantly in the region.
"The Donegal Project was initiated through the four clubs in the region working together to support the development of the game.
"However, the success of the programme will occur tomorrow night when local volunteers will meet with the intention of forming a new club in the county.
"In addition, Letterkenny Rugby Club, the one established club in the area, has seen huge expansion in its mini sections and also at adult male and female levels.
"The club has grown to the point that they are currently at the planning stage of redeveloping their clubhouse in a joint venture with the GAA club that they ground share with."
Browne was also keen to point out that a number of 'other IRFU community projects have also resulted in the formation of new clubs.
In Leinster, there are similar programmes aimed at the continued development, recruitment and retention of players in Tallaght, Ballymun, Fingal, Swords and Dublin city centre projects.
"The legacy of the Tallaght Project has been the establishment of Tallaght RFC, demonstrating the growth of rugby in the local community," Browne explained.
"Development of the game has continued in the Gaeltacht region of Connemara, through the Irish speaking Rugby Development Officers working in schools in this region.
"Again the success of the programme has been the community in Carraroe establishing a youth club.
"The Munster Branch has brought rugby to the non-traditional rugby playing areas in Limerick (yes, there are actually areas in Limerick that don't play rugby!).
"Working in cooperation with the Limerick Regeneration Project, Rugby Development Officers undertook a number of outreach programmes using rugby as a medium. Again these programmes link into the established clubs within the Limerick area."
Concluding his presentation, the IRFU Chief Executive spoke of the Union's partnership with the Irish Sports Council and the two bodies' work in trying to increase participation levels in sport.
"The economic uncertainty will create turbulent times ahead. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that during periods of economic downturn participants return to sport.
"As outlined, the IRFU has embarked on a number of initiatives to maximise this opportunity. The partnership of the Irish Sports Council is critical to ensure we do not reduce our participation and development programmes, as this is the very time that sport can play an important role in the social cohesion of the various strands in Irish society.
"The generous support of the Irish Sports Council allows the IRFU to better play our part in contributing to Irish society, whilst growing the game."
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