In his first blog of the season, IRFU President Louis Magee reflects on a busy start to the season – taking in club visits and official openings – and he looks forward to the big games ahead for Ireland next month.
As I write my first Blog as President of the Irish Rugby Football Union, I am greatly sustained by the tremendous demonstration of support being displayed for the Ireland team.
What an expression of faith it is in coach Joe Schmidt and his squad that ‘full house’ notices are already posted for our upcoming GUINNESS Series matches at the Aviva Stadium against South Africa on November 8 and Australia on November 22 – and that a bumper crowd of over 35,000 is anticipated for our middle match against Georgia on November 16.
Spectator support for ‘Team Ireland’ is so important to the whole of Irish rugby, as it is the vehicle around which 80% of our revenues, which fund our game from grassroots to international level, are generated.
So well done to all ticket holders and I join with you all in wishing our team every success as the curtain goes up next month to signal the start of our preparations for Rugby World Cup 2015.
I am glad to note that helping to boost the spectator figures is the take-up for the IRFU’s coach hire bursary for fans travelling to the Georgia game.
The offer provides a €;400 coach hire sponsorship to clubs who take groups of 45 or more. You can get details by contacting Jean Casey on 01-6473800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An added dimension to the GUINNESS Series is that the games mark the reintroduction of Canterbury as Ireland kit sponsors and the unveiling of 3 mobile as new team sponsors. I was delighted to attend both announcements which represent another significant expression of faith in Irish rugby.
It gave me the opportunity to express the Union’s appreciation to Canterbury Chief Executive Chris Stephenson, and also to CEO Robert Finnegan and the equally committed team at Three.
Our players certainly won’t lack in appeal in the newly designed and stylish Canterbury shirts, which Chris Stephenson tells me have been designed with both the players and fans in mind. The new kit is available to order now from http://shop.irishrugby.ie as well as all good sports retailers.
At a Three priority customers and staff event, I enjoyed a special get-together with Robert Finnegan and Elaine Carey to mark Three’s introduction as new Ireland team sponsors.
With Des Cahill as master of ceremonies, we were entertained to an informal and lively exchange in a Q&A session involving Irish management personnel Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss, Simon Easterby, Jason Cowman and Michael Kearney and in which star players Sean O’Brien and Mike Ross also entered the spirit of the occasion.
Busy opening to my year in office…
A busy and varied opening few months to my year in office had begun with a trip to Marcoussis, in the southern suburbs of Paris (famous as the location of France’s National Centre of Rugby where the French team train), to watch the Ireland Women begin their World Cup campaign against the USA.
Little did we know that it was to be the prelude to beating New Zealand 17-14 in the next outing in what was one of the most historic occasions in the history of Irish rugby.
It was a great privilege for me as President to witness at first hand the performance of this very special group of players. The fourth place finish they achieved, coupled with that Six Nations Grand Slam triumph in 2013, has ensured that Women’s rugby is now a serious part of Irish rugby.
Each and every one of the players and management were superb ambassadors for Ireland throughout the long and tough tournament.
Commemoration of First World War at Glasnevin Cemetery…
I was so proud also to represent the IRFU at the unveiling of the Cross of Sacrifice Ceremony at Glasnevin Cemetery in commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War. The ceremony was attended by the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.
I was deeply honoured on behalf of Irish rugby to lay a wreath at the Cross in honour of the many Irish rugby players who lost their lives during this horrific war.
Banbridge RFC new pitch and facilities…
In the first of a series of engagements in which I witnessed evidence of ambition and upgrading of facilities on the Irish club rugby front, I attended the opening of the new pitch and facilities at Banbridge RFC.
It represents a magnificent development of an area of ground that was originally a bog and is now a superb main pitch.
The club was supported in this project by a Banbridge Council and by a loan from the IRFU and great credit is due to project managers Raymond McKinstry and Raymond Thompson. They brought it to the committee table and devoted their time and expertise to ensure a successful conclusion.
I received a tremendous welcome from the Banbridge club members it was a great pleasure to meet up with club President Alan Harvey, the President of the Ulster Branch, John Kinnear, and Ulster captain Rory Best and his dad, John, who is Chairman of Rugby at very progressive Banbridge club.
Expansion at North Kildare RFC…
Another shining example of our club development was evident on my visit to North Kildare RFC for the opening of a new pitch. Again, the IRFU are delighted to support the project by way of a loan, which has seen the club purchase 9.5 acres of land adjacent to their existing pitches.
North Kildare now have the opportunity to extend their future developments and ensure that there are plenty of high quality playing surfaces available for the ever expanding mini, youth and senior sections.
Club President John Reilly, Honorary Treasurer John Hurley, along with Sean Waldron, Tom Bruton, Peter Robinson and Mick Reilly are just a few of the loyal and hard working members of the club who have driven this project to a successful conclusion.
Gala evening with Brian O’Driscoll at Kilkenny RFC…
Great credit is also due to Kilkenny RFC as I learned when attending a very impressive Gala evening at the Hub as a fundraiser for the upgrading of clubhouse facilities and the provision of floodlighting.
Brian O’Driscoll was the guest of honour and proved to be a great attraction for the audience that numbered in excess of 300. Club President Gary Bricknell hosted a truly magnificent evening. I was delighted to share in it and to hear of the club’s plans to further enhance its facilities at Foulkstown.
Opening of Trinity College all-weather pitch…
Another proud display of upgraded facilities is the fine new sand based all-weather playing pitch at College Park. It suitably complements the wonderful and unique setting of Dublin University FC as Ireland’s longest established club, which this year also marks the 160th anniversary of its foundation.
I attended a splendid lunch in the Trinity Dining Hall to mark the occasion. It preceded the first game to be played on the pitch between Trinity and Malone in the Ulster Bank League and I am delighted to congratulate Trinity Rugby Club President Alan Dargan and club administrator Kay Bowen, as well as John Boyd, Gerry Kelly, Michael Coughlan and the many other members who supported this timely and important project.
All Ireland Hurling final…
Changing codes, it was a great joy to attend by All-Ireland Hurling final between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park as a guest of the GAA and to witness one of the greatest hurling contests ever seen.
The IRFU enjoys a wonderful relationship with the GAA and we remain so grateful for the use of the magnificent Croke Park Stadium for the staging of our international matches during the period of redevelopment at Lansdowne Road and the creation of the Aviva Stadium.
President’s Golf Outing…
A feature of the President’s year in office is the annual staging of his golf outing. I hosted mine at my home club Milltown, which, I might add, is renowned for its rugby connections including countless Irish internationals as members.
We had 12 teams of four competing and the winning combination comprised Roc Mehigan, the Milltown club captain; Union Committee members Pat Whelan and Ian McIlrath and Mick Goggin, President of the Munster Branch of the IRFU. As always, it was a great fun day.
Meantime – best wishes to all followers of Irish rugby…