While their job title and general targets are similar, each of the four new provincial domestic games managers in Ireland face very different challenge specific to their respective regions. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Ulster where David Boyd has been involved in tackling the key domestic game issues since 2001.
Long before the National Development Plan, the Ulster Branch had run their own provincial strategic review from which they created the role of Club Development Manager. Boyd was hired to deal with some of the key issues that were affecting the domestic game in Ulster with the onslaught of professionalism. He started by meeting with clubs throughout the province.
“Professional rugby started in 1995 but I think it only really hit home in Ulster after the 1999 Heineken Cup victory, that was the springboard and in the intervening years the provincial squad became the centre of attention in Branch affairs. Understandable the clubs felt ignored and it was my job to go out and bridge the gap and try and canvass attitudes.”
Boyd’s work with clubs saw him appointed in 2006. The change was less dramatic for him and his staff as the groundwork had already being done.
“The new structures in the IRFU has given the four PDGM’s full control over Domestic Rugby in their province. This empowerment is the key to its success and it means that the IRFU can set specific targets for each of us to achieve. We all have Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) which are reviewed each year to see if targets have been met.”
Of all four provinces none have as diverse and challenging a landscape as Ulster. Everything from legislation and funding issues to the general social fabric of the various communities combines to create issues unique to Boyd’s role. British Government legislation is one of the key differences.
“We have been able to hire extra staff in specific roles thanks to funding from the government. We have a Community Development Officer working at promoting the game in non-traditional rugby areas and Colleges of Further Education, which are for young adults of 15 to 18 years.”
“These are areas where we have never had much success but are now really making an impact.” Continues Boyd. “We have also introduced the game to primary schools that would traditionally not have been rugby focused. Many of the coaches feel that there are a lot of benefits for the kids in improving their ball handling and evasive skills which also benefit them in Gaelic Football.”
The target for Boyd and his department, which he points out now has over 50 people working on the development of the game in the province, is to introduce the game to as many children as possible. Another issue where Ulster has to adopt a different strategy is in the area of Lotto Funding.
“Clubs in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan have a completely different process in obtaining funding, this is where the communication between myself and the other PDGM’s is important to us. I can go to the likes of David Ross from Leinster and get the information needed to help these clubs in their applications rather than having to research a whole new process.”
Before the game was divided into Domestic and Professional sections, Boyd points out that the various development officers where answering direct to Dublin and dealing with national plans rather than region specific. In the new structures they can focus on the challenges in their area.
“We have a number of key issues facing us at the moment, the first and foremost is referee recruitment which at the moment is not keeping pace with the increased playing numbers. We are also working with clubs as far as recruitment of coaches and club volunteers.
“As is the case everywhere nowadays we have difficulty keeping young adults involved in rugby between the ages of 18 and 23. In Ulster many students travel to England and Scotland to go to university, which is an added problem. On the positive side our mini, youth and schools structures are working very well.”
Ulster currently has 12 teams in the AIB League, it’s highest ever representation but only three are in the top division, one in the tier below and the remaining eight teams are in Division 3 so there is room for improvement. However, the new domestic game structures will provide the clubs with all the help they need in progressing both on and off the field.