I have said it before and as the season draws to a close I can emphasise it more than ever – the life of an IRFU President is never dull.
Traditionally, clubs in both Leinster and Ulster run annual dinners – almost without exception. It is a great circuit and a wonderful opportunity to renew friendships and keep your finger on the pulse of the club game!
My own club, Armagh RFC, host a dinner that has become much more civilised with the inclusion of ladies as guests, while the Grosvenor club in Belfast, which was on its knees just a short time ago, has been rejuvenated under President Alan Egner, resulting in a very lively evening.
Ballynahinch, as always, was a great night and you just know that you are not going to be home early.
In Leinster, Lansdowne, Blackrock and Seapoint rounded off the dinner season for me. Enjoyable occasions all, with warm hospitality, great company and craic in every one of them. I must thank all of the Leinster Presidents who accompanied me on the circuit and had to listen to me so many times.
They gave me tremendous support throughout and I look forward to the proposed reunions in years to come.
There were annual dinners elsewhere – often coupled with an awards night and on occasions even dancing – Corinthians and Athy organised such splendid evenings with the added pleasure of having my wife, Mabel, accompanying me. In Athy too, it was interesting to see the hockey club members also taking part.
The London Irish club took me a little further afield and of course there were the awards night for IRUPA and the Ulster Branch which had the advantage in that nobody had to listen to me speaking.
As the season came to a close, competition heightened. In Ballina two tough Cup matches were preceded by enjoying a fine lunch with alickadoos from the host club and the visiting clubs, Tuam and Loughrea. Again, the experience was one where energy, enthusiasm and fun in our sport were so apparent.
The AIB League Division 1 final went all the way into extra-time before Cork Constitution overcame a dogged St. Mary’s College side to claim the double, having earlier in the season won the AIB Cup. An outstanding achievement.
It is the time of year too when the Junior Interprovincial Series takes place. Ulster played Connacht in a great game of rugby at Virginia RFC. The local club deserve great credit for the preparation and presentation of their clubhouse and ground and their organisation of the whole event.
The Magners League and Heineken Cup competitions reached a climax, while Connacht’s players were outstanding in the attacking manner in which they took on and defeated Bourgoin in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final at a packed and atmospheric Sportsground.
At the RDS, the Mangers League semi-final was a tremendous experience – a wonderful atmosphere and a high quality game.
The final had a disappointing result but the Leinster fans should be complimented, as so many remained in the stadium at the end and applauded the winning Ospreys on their lap of honour.
No Irish team graced the Heineken Cup final in Paris but we should be proud of our squads for reaching three European semi-finals. Being in Paris had the bonus of witnessing five Irish players being selected in the ERC European Dream Team, representing fifteen years of Heineken Cup rugby.
Ronan O’Gara also achieved the highest accolade as the ERC Player Award winner.
Watching our national squad at Under-18 level in Treviso and Llandovery emphasises the need to take most seriously, the identification and development of our next generation of players. It is an eye opener to see, at these tournaments, how much other countries are developing.
At Enfield, watching our Under-20 squad at their final camp before heading to Argentina told me how acutely aware they are of the great challenge it is to remain as one of the most foremost nations. They have our best wishes at IRB Junior World Championship.
Thomond Park proved to be a worthy venue for the Barbarians game. Sadly, Fergus McFadden and Jerry Flannery were injured, adding to the list of players already out of the current tour Down Under.
Despite the depletion of the squad and the undoubted tiredness of many of the players, we should still keep faith in their ability and their spirit allied to the direction of a fine management team.
Did I mention that the life of a President is never dull? With a wide variety of other events filling the diary:
Opening Garryowen’s G3 pitch gave further evidence of how progressive this club is. Speaking at Belfast Harlequins at one of Brian Fitzgerald’s midweek lunches tests one and I am most grateful to the audience for listening to me.
Caleb Powell, IRFU Senior Vice President, and myself met with the Argentinian Ambassador, sharing views on enhancing the links between our two countries.
Attending Royal Dublin for the annual golf day were the GUI, FAI, GAA, and IRFU is not only a sporting exercise but also an occasion were there is interesting dialogue among people from different sporting backgrounds.
Meeting with Garda Commisioner Fachtna Murphy and some of his senior colleagues highlighted how important, helpful and necessary their work is in the management of all of our major national and provincial events.
In honour of the outgoing Honorary Secretary of the Ulster Branch, Joe Eagleson, a most pleasant evening was had in Belfast Reform Club. The turnout reflected the great servant Joe has been to Ulster and Irish rugby.
On May 14, we opened the Aviva Stadium. Lansdowne Road has been the home of Irish rugby since 1878 so we were returning to our spiritual home.
Henry Dunlop, it was, who first leased the ground for five pounds, later transferring the lease to the IRFU. Members of the Dunlop family were among guests of the IRFU at the opening ceremony – a significant moment in our rugby history.
We look with optimism at the impetus the Aviva Stadium may bring both to the grassroots and to the professional game.
And so to the Antipodes…
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