18 May, 11:09
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has issued a statement following confirmation of Ronan O'Gara's decision to retire from playing professional rugby.
Christmas time and the arrival of a New Year marks the halfway point in the rugby season and notwithstanding the current economic climate and its effect on our game, we can be uplifted by the anticipation of what the second half of the 2011/12 season promises.
At all levels there is much to enthuse about. Not least the historical note that Wales, Italy and Scotland will be playing at the Aviva Stadium in the RBS 6 Nations championship for the first time.
The Women's Six Nations and Ireland's various age group internationals, plus the Ulster Bank League and the other domestic competitions, will also be very much in the spotlight.
The participation of all four provinces in the Heineken Cup for the first time has been a tremendous attraction over the last two months.
A personal highlight for me was experiencing the special flavour of attending the new-look Sportsground in Galway on the memorably occasion that Connacht played Toulouse! It was a proud day for rugby in the west.
It has been a tough experience for Connacht to step up to Heineken Cup level. But the passion of their supporters, the determination of the management and playing squad, allied to the guiding hand of the new Professional Game Board working in harmony with the IRFU, fills me with the hope that better days are ahead for Connacht Rugby.
It is to their credit that much progress has already been made midway through the first of a three-year plan.
Meanwhile, it is wonderful to see Munster, Ulster and Leinster all topping their respective pools in the Heineken Cup and that the top of the new-look RaboDirect PPRO12 also shows a commanding Irish presence with Leinster and Munster poised nicely in the top three.
All the while, our club scene is experiencing a new vibrancy in the revamped Ulster Bank League. As the New Year unfolds, our premier inter-club competition will build up to the prospect of some fascinating promotion and relegation battles.
There will be further interest, too, in all the other activities across the club, third level and schools competitions. I am especially pleased in this regard as the Union and the Branches work tirelessly to ensure the game's well being at grassroots.
It represents the very heart of our game and I would like to personally acknowledge the critical role played by the large volunteer force which forms the backbone of Irish rugby across this Island.
Since being elected President, I have greatly enjoyed my travels around Ireland attending various matches and functions.
I was especially touched by my own club St. Mary's College whose Past Presidents and current officers made a presentation to me as the first member of the club to hold the office of IRFU President.
Another greatly enjoyable function at Templeville Road was the presentation made to mark the retirements as players of Malcolm O'Kelly and Denis Hickie. Among the legends of Irish rugby in their respective positions, they also share the virtues of being consummate professionals, outstanding ambassadors and of being proud of their club connections.
It was a privilege also to visit Queen's University and to speak on behalf of the Union at the Co-Operation Ireland celebration of the role Irish rugby has played and continues to play in peace building on this Island.
Our game can be proud that rugby has always facilitated positive relations between communities across the four provinces.
A recent manifestation of how rugby is used to advance relationships and promote greater understanding and respect was the game I attended at Newforge in south Belfast between the Ireland police team, comprising members of the Garda and PSNI, and their counterparts from England and Scotland and Wales.
The Ireland team crest incorporates the symbols of the four provinces together with elements of the crests of the Garda and PSNI and as President I would emphasise that the IRFU is delighted to support these initiatives.
In the New Year, I look forward to visiting many more rugby venues and clubs.
In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy Christmas and extend my New Year's best wishes to everyone in our expanding Irish rugby community.
President, Irish Rugby Football Union