IRFU President John Callaghan has been a busy man in recent months. From club to province to country and international, the round of meetings, club dinners and matches is a hectic but welcome schedule as he keeps in touch with the pulse of Irish rugby. In this blog, John brings us up to date with the life of the IRFU President since January.
Many people seem to think that the Presidency ends with the final game in the RBS 6 Nations. I can assure you for the next three months stamina is still required.
The disappointment of missing out on the Triple Crown was quickly dissipated the next day with the confirmation that our Under-20 squad had become Championship winners.
Kevin Potts (IRFU Director of Corporate Affairs) and his staff were able to organise a reception for the players at 6pm where they received their medals from myself and the trophy from John Feehan, Chief Executive of the Six Nations.
That Sunday afternoon a cracker of a match between Ireland Under-18 Schools and a Leinster Development squad had taken place at Blackrock College. This was a warm-up fixture for the Schools side before they take part in the Five Nations Festival in Wales (April 2-10).
In February, I had also seen the Ireland Under-18 Clubs side defeat a Languedoc regional Under-18 selection in Narbonne in what was a warm-up for them before the Easter FIRA-AER U-18 European Championship in Treviso.
Having already seen in December in Cork our Under-19 squad defeating Australia, there is clear evidence of the work going on to ensure a succession of players feeding into our professional sides and eventually to the senior squad.
Visiting these squads in training camps and also having been with the Women’s squad and the AIB Club International team management, I am struck by the high quality of both management and coaching that is in place with all our national squads.
The energy and enthusiasm that I met at Ashbourne with the Women’s squad is a reflection of what I experienced everywhere.
The snow and ice of the post Christmas period scuppered some, but not all, of my plans for visiting clubs. Wherever I have been, usually accompanied by my wife, the welcome has been wonderful and it is pleasing to see so many of these clubs in good heart.
A quick trawl through the diary throws up just some of the stops along the way:
Lisburn v Academy – Academy are on the rise again.
Sunday’s Well v Banbridge – Ladies Day at the ‘Well. A lovely occasion, again wonderful.
Clonmel v Cashel – Two go-ahead clubs, a tough game but with Jean Lonergan there, I was ashamed that I knew so little about Women’s rugby.
Belfast Harlequins v UCD – Difficult to move to far in the clubhouse as I met so many alickadoos I knew.
Sligo v Tuam – A most pleasant occasion with so many past presidents turning out. Sadly, within a week, Tuam had lost Gerard Vallely through a sudden bereavement.
Malone v Old Wesley – Great day with the great Jimmy Nelson watching his club turn over the pre-match favourites.
The Colours Match – With a reunion of the successful Trinity 1960 side, a most pleasant occasion hosted by Sheamus Considine, President of Trinity.
UL Bohemians v Dolphin – An extraordinary game. I know I am meant to be neutral in these matters, but I confess to feeling for the home side who had played so well.
Coolmine v Tullow – A pulsating game, a big crowd, and a worthy league title for the home side, but I would not have put money on the result if it had needed a replay the following week in Tullow.
To all of the Club Presidents and their wives together with club members who made Mabel and myself feel so much at home, I offer my thanks.
Without exception your kindness, consideration and hospitality have been most humbling and left us with so many unforgettable experiences.
Since the new year the club dinner circuit has been in full swing, especially in Leinster. Terenure College, Wanderers, St. Mary’s College, Bective Rangers, Clontarf and UCD have all featured in my diary.
These were interspersed with the Munster Referees in Limerick and a splendid lunch for 200 people run by the Exiles in London on the Friday before the England v Ireland RBS 6 Nations game.
Club dinners were never really my cup of tea but I have to admit that those which I have attended thus far have exuded a great atmosphere and reflect in those attending the great rugby network that exists.
The club captains that have spoken have been most impressive and signal that we do indeed have a generation capable of running our game in the future.
It is also being good news for me to see so many of the clubs featuring teams from J1 to J5 and Under-20 sides. It was thought by many that this sort of playing participation no longer existed.
These are the real grassroots who include many of the best administrators and club sponsors of the future.
Being IRFU President brings other privileged moments wide in variety. The Ballynahinch Christmas Party with young and old began at 1pm and ended at half past…. To say it was enjoyable was the understatement of the year.
Dr. Tony Scott’s invitation to the Christmas Concert in the RDS was a highlight of a different kind – and not to be missed.
Our Ireland senior squad and management received an award from Business & Finance magazine for their contribution to Brand Ireland. The presentation took place in front of 650 people in O’Reilly Hall in UCD.
Lunch in Aras an Uachtarain with Martin McAleese. Prior to the President’s launching of ‘Your Country, Your Call’ – a most worthy inititiate which has IRFU support.
Lunch also with Danuta Gray and Damien Devaney of O2, our team sponsors, also emphasised the seriousness and importance of our links with Corporate Ireland.
The Irish Ambassador in Paris, Paul Kavanagh, gave a reception on Sunday following the France v Ireland RBS 6 Nations clash. A beautiful building and an occasion to match which I hope will encourage business links between Ireland and the regions in France, many with a strong rugby heritage.
A completely different kind of visit, one to an old friend, David Black – a great Armagh rugby man now in his 90s and a man whose advice is always welcome.
International weekends are most intense in nature, the Friday night committee dinners fulfil not just the needs of a game that is sociable at its core but also the serious discussion on issues of mutual interest.
We are pleased that Italy will have two teams in the Magners League from next season.
The provinces now take centre stage. Already I have been welcomed by all four to pre-match functions. In Ulster, a most pleasant past Presidents’ reunion took place before the Dragons game.
It was pleasing to witness Ulster’s fine victories over Bath and Stade Francais at Ravenhill, and the promise of an Ulster rising once again.
But the main focus now will be on Leinster, Munster and Connacht. All three may have the advantage of home draws in Europe but all three face extremely difficult games.
I wish them well and intend to be at the Sportsground to cheer on Connacht against Bourgoin next week.