The day started with a visit to Letterkenny RFC to watch an Under-18 and Under-16 boys' game between Donegal Schools Cup winners, St. Columba's College, and Carndonagh CS. These are two of the 20 secondary schools involved in the game in Donegal during the last seven years which has helped increase the participation in high schools rugby in Ulster.
The Donegal Schools committee has held the highest attended Ulster Branch qualifiers at Under-14 and Under-16 levels for the past two seasons, and also boasts the only girls' Under-15 and Under-18 15-a-side contact competitions in Ulster and Ireland.
Following the first game, the Ulster staff were then taken on an hour-long scenic drive to the Gaeltacht area of west Donegal to watch the first school rugby match to be played at Pobailscoil Gaoth Dobhair who were entertaining local rivals Rosses CS at Under-14 boys and Under-15 girls levels.
Both age groups were involved in only their second rugby outing, yet they played an entertaining brand of open rugby and physicality that impressed the visiting rugby staff, who commented that it was hugely refreshing to see so much interest and enthusiasm for the game.
For each one of the Ulster staff members, this was their first visit to the rural heart of Donegal which is a three-hour drive from Ulster Rugby headquarters in Belfast.
Late afternoon involved a trip back to Letterkenny for a review meeting with the Donegal Community Rugby Project where there was the opportunity to discuss the challenges and potential opportunities for players to further enhance their development within the current and future player development structures.
The day was completed with a pitch-based game awareness, skill and strength/conditioning session with a select group of players from Donegal who are involved in current pathways.
Darryl and the Academy staff found the visit to be very worthwhile and were enthused by the level of interest and potential within Donegal and the west of the province in general.
The visit is part of an overall and continual review that Darryl and staff are conducting as part of his development of a talent strategy for Ulster Rugby.
For the period between 2003 and 2010, Donegal has provided ten players at age grade representative level and supplied four women players to the provincial squad.
A number of players from Donegal have also gone onto to gain representative honours in other Irish provinces and in both Wales and England.
With continued development of the game in Donegal, hopefully it will only be a matter of time before a Donegal-based player will emerge from the dressing room at Ravenhill on a Friday night to take to the pitch alongside his fellow Ulstermen.
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