It gives me great pleasure to extend my best wishes to all 52 clubs competing in the 2013-'14 Ulster Bank League. I welcome the inclusion of the Tullamore and Richmond clubs this season and congratulate them on their promotion to the premier inter-club competition in Irish rugby.
The Ulster Bank League provides some of the most exciting rugby across the Island of Ireland each weekend. It is a wonderful showcase for our leading amateur players and offers the prospect of a potential stepping stone to higher honours.
I am especially pleased in its rejuvenated image that the League is seen to generate enhanced spectator interest and activity at clubs on match days. A particular upbeat feature is the success of games being staged under floodlights on Friday evenings.
The "Friday Night Lights'' phenomenon will be a key feature again this season. The IRFU is pleased also that news, updates, fixtures, tables, etc will be available throughout the season on www.irishrugby.ie. and that Irish Rugby TV will be broadcasting live games and highlights from matches on YouTube.
From Ulster Bank League level down through all the grades, the domestic game covers a large cross section of people and activities. It is the very heart of our game and the IRFU is committed in its determination that protecting the future of grassroots rugby is a priority.
I thank all volunteers in appreciation of their invaluable contribution. But we face many challenges and as President, I invite you to support the IRFU in its objectives so that together we can maintain our values and enrich the enjoyment we get from the game.
I also urge your support for the Club Sustainability Report. One of the key recommendations, in response to anxieties raised by a number of clubs, is the removal of payments to players in the amateur game. I believe this culture has not been in the best interests of Irish club rugby and the Union's initiative to tackle the issue requires acceptance and full support.
As I look forward eagerly to the 20013-'14 Ulster Bank League fixtures schedule, and attending many games; I sincerely thank Ulster Bank, the official Community Partner to the IRFU, which includes sponsorship of the Ulster Bank League, the Ulster Bank League Divisional awards, the Irish Club international team, the Bateman All Ireland Cup, and of the Ulster Bank RugbyForce initiative.
Meantime, enjoy the games
President, Irish Rugby Football Union