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President’s Blog: The Season To Date

President’s Blog: The Season To Date

Caleb Powell was elected President of the IRFU for the 2010/11 season. The Presidency is a busy role within the Union. In this diary, Caleb gives us a flavour of the season to date.

As President of the Irish Rugby Football Union, I must say that I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunities the office presents by way of closely engaging with the various strands of the game.

From my home in County Dublin, I, often accompanied by my wife Gill, have zigzagged through many counties doing my utmost – though not always succeeding – to accept all the invitations that comes with the office. That very bad weather in December and early January curtailed my travels as well as many fixtures.

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What has struck me most on my travels is the overwhelming and warm reception being accorded to the Presidency of the IRFU and the deep sense of passion that exists for the club game at senior and junior level.

The camaraderie and spirit that is evident across the Irish rugby community and the tremendous commitment being made by so many volunteers to make it all happen is wonderful to see first hand.

I am finding it all very heartening because the solid base of Irish rugby is our domestic game and as President, I reiterate the Union’s standpoint that rugby at grassroots remains our priority as much as ever.

The professional game will always be to the forefront and we are delighted with the success of the provinces in the Magners League and Heineken Cup.

This we accept, as it is the national and provincial teams that largely generate the finances from which the whole game survives. But I want to assure everybody in ‘club land’ that the IRFU and the provincial branches have your welfare at heart.

I am delighted to note that this is the general perception and strong evidence that the local club scene is alive and well has been very evident in my travels.

For example, my visit to Bruff Rugby Club warmed my heart. To me this great club, which is currently tasting so much success on the pitch, epitomises all that is best in club rugby.

What a wonderful occasion it was when I was hosted by President Gerry Hehir on yet another red letter day for the club – their 24-22 victory over UCD to reach the final of the Bateman Cup. This, on top of their historic victory in winning the Munster Senior Cup, further illuminates the new found status of this rural phenomenon.

Dare I say, it even made the club supporters’ penchant to utilise the infamous vuzuzelas sound a little more bearable!

Success is also a backdrop for the Longford Rugby Club. Accompanied by fellow Union officer, Pat Fitzgerald, himself a stalwart of the Longford club, I attended the unveiling of the newly-refurbished clubhouse and conditioning gym, named after the late Derek Belton, a former club captain and passionate member.

The provision of this excellent facility highlights the ambition of the Longford rugby enthusiasts.

It was a proud day also for UCD RFC when they played the Combined Universities at Belfield as part of their celebrations to mark their centenary.

I certainly endorse the sentiments of club President, Dr. Hugh Brady, when he says that over the last 100 years the club has evolved from modest beginnings into one of the world’s most successful university rugby clubs. Continued good wishes to Hugh in his special year in office.

As a graduate of Trinity College it was nice to accept President Gerry Kelly’s invite to College Park for the traditional Presidents of Leinster clubs’ get-together in the wonderful old Pavilion.

I have very fond memories of my time at Trinity and I hope everyone at College Park will have as much enjoyment and satisfaction this season as I had when playing. The place, of course, is steeped in history as the Dublin University Football Club is the oldest existing rugby club in the world.

The Trinity club President’s ‘do’ kicks off the club circuit of dinners in Leinster. I was similarly delighted to attend Ronnie McBrien’s St. Mary’s College President’s dinner when I was accompanied by my opposite number from Argentina on the eve of Ireland’s game against the Pumas during the GUINNESS Series in November.

I was well fed also – I’m wondering how much weight I will have added on by the end of my year in office – when I dined twice at the Aviva Stadium, first for the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland awards banquet and then for the Friends of the Charitable Trust fundraising dinner when I was accompanied by the visiting John Sturgeon, President of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

The Sunday Independent rugby correspondent Brendan Fanning, in his capacity as Chairman of the Rugby Writers, and Oliver Loomes, on behalf of Guinness, were genial and generous hosts at a terrific function when two of Ireland’s greats, Cecil Pedlow and Willie Duggan, were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Tommy Bowe was honoured as the Player of the Year, Cork Constitution as Club of the Year, The Ireland Under-20 Six Nations winners won the Dave Guiney award as Team of the Year – and the redoubtable Gerry Murphy won the Tom Rooney award for Services to Irish rugby. All well deserved.

The well-attended black tie Friends of the Charitable Trust fundraiser for seriously injured rugby players saw another marvellous show of support for this great cause, which was highlighted by most entertaining speeches from Willie John McBride and Michael Cosgrave.

The magnificent Aviva Stadium was also the venue for the joint announcement by the IRFU and Ulster Bank of a new partnership that has seen the bank become the official Community Rugby partner to the Union and which includes title sponsorship of the All-Ireland League and of the Ireland Club International team.

That happy arrangement is in place up to 2014 and also embraces a new club volunteer initiative, called Ulster Bank RugbyForce, whereby selected clubs will receive funding to renovate their facilities.

Ellvena Graham, Ulster Bank’s Director of Business Services in Ireland, said that Ulster Bank looks forward to working with Irish rugby’s volunteers and of improving club facilities in Ireland.

On a very sad note, I had occasion to pay my respects to two departed legends of our game. In Mountrath, I attended a memorial service for the Reverend Robin Roe, who died in England, aged 81. He was born in Borris-in-Ossory, County Laois and played rugby as a hooker for Ireland and the Lions between 1952 and 1957 and was also awarded a Military Cross for his courage in Aden while a British Army chaplain.

Not too far away in Portarlington, I was one of an estimated 800 people who turned up at St. Michael’s Church to say goodbye to the great Moss Keane.

We recalled many stories about the late Mick English when his widow Pauline presented the Mick English Memorial Cup for competition between Mick’’s former clubs Lansdowne and UL Bohemians at a very pleasant pre-match function down at Thomond Park.

Coincidentally I also played with these two clubs, so I was especially pleased to return to Limerick to mark a special occasion in memory of ‘Mick the Kick’, a great rugby and family man.

I had always marked the Ireland Schools game at Donnybrook and the Under-19s game at Anglesea Road – both against their English counterparts – as ‘must attend’ and I was not disappointed.

They whet the appetite for the provincial Schools Cup competitions which are now in progress and which invariably provide some of the keenest competition and attractive games you will come across. I strongly recommend that you have a look.

Meantime, best wishes.

Caleb Powell
IRFU President