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President’s Blog: Club Visits

President’s Blog: Club Visits

It has been a busy few months for IRFU President John Callaghan. Since the start of the season, he has been a regular visitor at clubs all over Ireland seeing first hand the vibrancy of the game at grassroots level. In his first blog for IrishRugby.ie, John brings us up to date with his travels.

Visiting Dooradoyle for the kick-off of the AIB League enabled me to witness the most dramatic of finishes to an enthralling contest.

In front of a crowd of over 2,000 spectators, Shannon went ahead for the first time in the game on 80 minutes and 46 seconds, as the ball sailed between the posts making it 10 points to 9.

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Keeping possession for at least four more minutes, Garryowen triumphed with a mighty Willie Staunton drop goal promoting the final whistle – Garryowen 12 Shannon 10.

The passion is still there in these two great clubs. Just as importantis the manner in which these great rivals have co-operated so that contests between them may now take place under floodlights on a Friday or Saturday evening.

That such passion exists in Limerick comes as no great surprise, but I was given a timely reminder that it also exists elsewhere. 

In Tullamore on Saturday,October 17, a local derby with Portlaoise had a huge vociferous crowd involved throughout a see-sawing contest with victory to Tullamore 23-20 – what a night.

Again, both clubs have co-operated in agreeing to play against one another on a Saturday evening under lights. If the post-match activity in Tullamore is anything to go by, other clubs may be interested in doing the same.

Great anticipation was shown both in Tullamore and in Ballynahinch for the draws for the AIB Junior Cup and AIB Cup. 

This is the fifth year of AIB’s sponsorship for the cup competitions which run alongside the AIB League – now in its 13th year of AIB sponsorship. 

Greater interest than ever is in evidence in both the cups and leagues. New boys Navan impressed me with their first round win over Instonians before going on to lead Division 3 after the first two weekends of league action – a fitting start for such a progressive club.

Like Navan, all of the clubs I have visited have made or are making significant improvements to their facilities.

Perhaps pride of place should go to junior club Lurgan who first fielded sides back in 1884 but who recently captured a £120,000 grant from Sport NI, using it to completely and successfully overhaul the drainage to the club’s 13 acres.

It was an example, too, of a club ‘getting on with it’ and of an individual within the club – Howard Ingram – showing what is possible and seeing it through.

Universal too, was the energy and enthusiasm I experienced.  Ballymoney had an excellent Under-17 match against Larne, then a splendid lunch with Joe Tannahill suggesting that the visitors from Armagh might at least have been fed on Friday before they came. 

Athy are determined to rise again, having gained promotion last year, and now running three adult teams together with sides at all youth levels.

Many clubs, having concentrated on first teams, are once again recognising the importance of the club as a whole by working hard on additional adult sides together with a youth section developing youngsters for the future.

Boyne, that proud Drogheda nursery, ran a special night to celebrate the fact that they had produced, from the cradle up through their own ranks, three Internationals including a British & Irish Lion. Take a bow Shane Horgan, Mark McHugh and Niall Ronan.

It was a unique night, given that also in attendance were six trophies – the Six Nations trophy, the Triple Crown, the Churchill Cup, the Heineken Cup and the Magners League trophy together with the Provincial Towns Cup, won last season by Boyne.

Cameras were in overdrive all day to late in the evening and understandably so.

The IRFU and the Provincial Marketing Departments are to be commended for sending the winning National and Provincial team trophies on tour around the country. It is proving to be a huge promotional success. 

It is only right and proper that the grassroots should share in this success that they helped create.Mind you, the extraordinary increase in the popularity of rugby especially at mini and youth level is placing great strain on club volunteers.

On behalf of the Union, may I take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your tremendous commitment to our game.

A special ceremony to mark the re-naming of the De La Salle Palmerston grounds to Kirwan Park was attended on my behalf by Junior Vice President John Hussey.

John, a close friend of the Kirwan family, was able to recall the great contribution made by the recently deceased Jack Kirwan and his father before him, to the club, to Leinster and to IRFU affairs.

It was my pleasure to be able to attend the club’s annual dinner later in the month.

Visits to clubs come no more special than the occasion held at Anglesea Road on September 12. The Whelan Cup was presented as a trophy to be contested each year between Old Belvedere and arch rivals Clontarf.

The presentation, made by Brian Whelan on behalf of the Whelan family, was a cup in memory of son Jack, tragically killed in an accident at Easter time.

Family and friends and supporters from both clubs gathered for what was a moving yet most sociable afternoon – so fitting for the young man we had lost.

In the Atrium of Trinity College, the annual Dublin University President’s reception was held, Seamus Considine, our most genial and articulate host.

Jamie Heaslip received his ‘Trinity Lions’ jersey and in return presented the club with his Lions jersey for the second Test against South Africa.

To be absolutely certain of my facts, before saying my few words, I scribbled a note to Trinity stalwart Peter Boyle. “I am correct in saying Trinity is the oldest club in Ireland?”, I said. “In the world!”, was his retort.

Every club visited has been overwhelming in the warmth of its reception. It has been the same for my wife Mabel on the occasions that she has accompanied me. At Portarlington, for example, it all began with a guard of honour provided by the minis as we entered the clubhouse. 

The game against Athy was outstanding and a credit to players and coaches alike. They also provided a guard of honour.  Then there was the food and drink provided and the genuine friendliness of so many people of all ages. 

Joe and Joan, the respective Presidents on the day, Breda and Aideen, such wonderful rugby people – I mention their names but they are representative of the huge numbers of people in each club who have gone out of their way to speak to us and make us feel at home.

Thank you so much to everyone.

John Callaghan, IRFU President.