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President’s Blog – An Encouraging Start To The Season

President’s Blog – An Encouraging Start To The Season

IRFU President Pat Fitzgerald has been busy touring clubs and was recently honoured by his home club Longford RFC.

One of the most heart-warming aspects of the early months of my year as President of the IRFU is the opportunity it has given me to visit so many clubs up and down the country. And one of the most pleasing experiences is seeing first hand the passion that exists for our grassroots game.

The negative effects of our economic downturn have certainly taken a toll, particularly in rural areas where emigration has hit hard.

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But what shines through is the spirit of commitment that I have witnessed amongst the volunteer forces, who are determined to tackle economic adversity for the good of their local rugby club.

This has certainly been apparent to me on visits to my own club Longford as well as to Cavan and Virginia – junior clubs, embedded at the heart of their respective communities. There is a lesson in that!

I am very proud of my junior club roots and to be the first junior club representative in Leinster to become President of the IRFU. I was greatly humbled when Longford arranged a celebratory function and made me a presentation to mark the milestone.

I see it as a “shared’’ accolade with a club with which I am associated for over 40 years, as player and administrator. There was lots of nostalgia on the night and I was delighted to meet many of my old buddies such as Derek and Warren Turner, Paddy Quinn, Niall Nally, Tom Cox and many more.

My visit to Cavan was to mark the club’s 40th anniversary and unveiling of upgraded facilities. They would be the envy of many clubs around the country. A wonderful occasion organised by club President Kevin Jackson and fellow stalwart member Frank Walls was highlighted for me by the melodious tones of the club’s choir which put on a wonderful recital.

I thank them also for the fact that from the CD they are planning to make, they are donating the proceeds to the IRFU’s Charitable Trust for seriously injured players.

On that note, I am looking forward to attending the Charitable Trust lunch taking place at the Clyde Court Hotel on Lansdowne Road for Friday, November 15, the eve of the Ireland v. Australia Guinness Series match.

It will feature the involvement of ex Irish personalities Ronan O’Gara, Mick Galwey and Dick Spring. With that line up on board it promises to be a great afternoon of good rugby chat and memories. You can support it and book a place with Linda Black on 01 – 6473866 or email – charitabletrust@irfu.ie

Memories of my own playing days many moons ago came tumbling back when I attended the 36th anniversary celebrations of Virginia rugby club, organised so well by President, Chris Corrie and the renowned club founder member Wilson Green.

I played for Longford against Virginia 35 years ago years ago and I was also present 31 years ago for the opening of their new pitch when Willie John McBride brought down his Ulster team and when legends as Phil Orr, Tony Ward, Hugo MacNeill and Paul Dean were included in the opposition.

I was delighted to recall old times and also to hear that this wonderful club is in such good fettle as to have no bank borrowings and no overdraft! Now there is a boast – and a wonderful tribute to the dedication and vision of its members!

The pride of rugby in the Midlands was also highlighted in the inauguration of the first Midlands Area awards banquet I attended in Tullamore. Having been a member of the Midlands Area Committee for 19 years I have first-hand knowledge of the pioneer work done on behalf of rugby by the eight clubs in the Area.

The great variety and calibre of the 11 Award winners, including my good self, underlines what a force the Midlands Area has become across the full spectrum of the game – given that the winners represented Administration… the Ladies…the Referees and Senior and Youths.

And that’s not all, as I said in my speech: –the Midlands can also boast that we have weaned the coach of the Irish rugby team in Joe Schmidt, who, of course, cut his coaching teeth many years ago in Mullingar.

A celebration I was delighted to attend marked the 10th anniversary of the Emerald Warriors rugby club. The club has its roots in the Irish gay community. They play in the Leinster Junior 5 Metro League, and have consolidated strongly within the Irish rugby family.

Founder member Richie Whyte and club President Simon Finnegan were wonderful hosts in what was a great evening of celebration and entertainment.

Another function of great commemoration was the Terenure College promoted re-union of the famous Lions winning 1971 team to New Zealand. A measure of its success was that there were upwards of 700 at the Burlington Hotel for a night of great recall and a reminder of the huge contribution made by Irish players to Lions tours over more than a century – including the redoubtable Mick Hipwell, Terenure’s own 1971 Lions squad representative. Well done to ‘Nure President Arthur Fitzpatrick and his organiasing committee.

Functions of this nature make for great rugby events and as the ‘Nure proved they also have the rich potential by way of raising funds.

With regarding to club funding, I am delighted to have launched the IRFU’s “Your Club – Your Country Grand Draw’’ which allows clubs to sell up to 1,000 tickets at €;10 each and raise a possible Euro 10,000 with no expense.

Last year this initiative raised €; 750,000 for clubs around the country – so make sure you support your club and be in with a chance to win €; 25,000 value in prizes – including a trip to Argentina next summer in conjunction with the Ireland team’s tour.

In a year when it was less than satisfactory time for our men’s senior team, the ladies most certainly lifted the gloom and it was a splendid gesture by our President, Michael D. Higgins to recognise the feat of a first ever Triple Crown and Grand Slam by inviting the women’s team and management to a ceremony in stately Aras an Uachtarain.

I am delighted that the IRFU has truly embraced the women’s game and the endorsement by the President to formally recognise the achievement, together with his attendance at the Ireland-France game in Ashbourne in March; is further recognition of the scale of what has been achieved by the women in rugby.

It was a wonderful social get-together with deserved commendation to the team’s coach Philip Doyle, manager Gemma Crowley and team captain Fiona Coghlan and her talented squad. Good luck to them again this season.

I was delighted to also attend Lansdowne FC for their opening game in defence of the Ulster Bank League, against UCD. The commencement of Ireland’s premier inter-club competition invariably injects a buzz of activity in our clubs.

The excitement was palpable in the pre match function at Lansdowne Road, spiced further by the announcement that Zurich, now in their 24th season as sponsors of Lansdowne, have extended their support of the club up to 2016. This makes it one of the longest running sponsorships in Irish sport, if not further afield.

It also makes the statement that Zurich believe in our club game – so well done to them and representatives Patrick Manley, Conor Brennan and Maurice Cullen.

Indeed, on the sponsorship front, this is also a landmark season for UCD, who have unveiled a new main sponsor in Crowe Howarth. I see this as another demonstration of support and faith in the Irish club rugby brand.