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‘There Are No Shortcuts But It Will Help Us All Return To Rugby’

A general view of St. Mary's College RFC 16/9/2017

©INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Clubs all over Ireland are working hard to Return To Rugby and the IRFU have provided a comprehensive road-map to assist them in their work.

IrishRugby.ie spoke to two clubs about their experience to date.

Gerry Clancy of UL Bohemian is the Club Covid-19 Safety Officer and he spoke to IrishRugby.ie about the work done to get back training at Annacotty.

“It’s been a huge club effort by everyone involved. My own background is in Audio/Visual installations, so I have Health & Safety certification but to be honest the process has been about applying the experience in the club and combining that with the advice from the Government and in particular the IRFU Return To Rugby resources.

There was a big webinar recently and there was a huge amount of questions asked and answered on that. The amount of online content made available has been fantastic as well. It made it very easy for us to work on it.”

Patrick Crawford of St. Mary’s College RFC echoes Gerry’s words about the advice and protocols provided so far,

‘We came away from the webinar with an understanding of the why. Why we need a safety plan, why we have to protect people. After that the IRFU are engaging with us and through Leinster Rugby working with the clubs to make sure all clubs are working through the phases – the plan, the officers, the safety statement and so on.

‘The details are important. For safety and insurance reasons we want to make sure we cover as much as we can.”

Advice For Other Clubs – Take It Step By Step And Ask Questions

Colin McEntee, IRFU Director of Rugby Development, is keen to stress that each club will have different challenges. Speaking about the process of returning to rugby he said, “We want clubs to move at a pace they are comfortable with.

“The IRFU and the Provinces are ready to help the clubs no matter what stage of the process they are at. Clubs should only begin their plans for a return to rugby when they are ready, and resources are in place. Support structures will be available for them at provincial and national level whether they are ready to start now or later in the summer.”

In addition to the resources provided to clubs via webinars and online, there are staff available in all four provinces and IRFU head office.

Gerry Clancy spoke about using the resources available and seeking help and clarification, “One of our main points of contact is Aidan Cleary from Munster Rugby. I sent him a few emails to clarify things and he’s been fantastic; my advice is – if there is a question, ask the question, our experience is they are straight back with answers and resources.

Patrick Crawford emphasises the need to follow each step, go through the process and don’t feel pressured to rush through a stage,

“There are no shortcuts, every step has to be taken. Everybody wants to play but if you haven’t done your risk assessment, put in place your safety plan and installed as much protection as you can – cleansers, distance marking and protocols, then you are putting the club and members at risk.”

Compliance Officers – A Key Role

A key element in the IRFU guidelines is the appointment of Compliance Officers to oversee the day to day monitoring of compliance and to ensure that all members are adhering to the club and IRFU plans.

UL Bohs took the decision to appoint a Compliance Officer for every team or age grade.

‘This is one of the most important parts. We wanted each team or age grade to have its own Compliance Officer” said Clancy, “We had a club zoom meeting with over 70 people on it and my colleague Andy Lacey has been incredible in helping everyone in the club to implement the plans. He’s the man on the ground and he’s been instrumental on the ground, but everyone has worked hard to get us back up and running.”

St. Mary’s will deploy Compliance Officers across the club . They will assess the needs of each team and training session and appoint enough officers to ensure protocols are followed.

Templevile Road is also home to Emerald Warriors RFC, Bisto Girls Team, David Lyon Photography, MOD Personal Training and a Slimming World franchise– each tenant will have their own Safety Plan.

The club has also set aside budget to invest in several areas to protect members including hand sanitisers at pitch entry, contact free thermometers, face masks, Covid-19 signage, social distance markings and they are in the process of preparing an isolation room in the club with personal protection equipment.

“We want to make sure that people feel safe coming back to the club and in the season ahead. Each introduction will be timed and paced. But it will be a challenge.”

First Day Back

UL Bohs kicked off training this week – “We were all nervous, everyone was prepared and to be honest the kids have been living this for months now and the Compliance Officers had prepared each group. With our U18s we broke them into four pods.

Each pod had half a pitch with their own running channels and work areas marked out. We have the hand sanitizer stations in place and our Compliance Officers were there to oversee it all – it’s been a huge effort.”

St. Mary’s are ready to start their first team back next week. Ahead of that they have prepared a comprehensive plan for every level of the club.

Every coach must submit training plans to the Compliance Officers and get sign off. Training times will be staggered, and the first team will train in pods of four.

“We want to ensure there is easy contact tracing in place in the event of anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19″, explains Patrick.

Five litre stainless steel foot operated hand sanitisers are located at the entry to each pitch, Covid-19 signage is being put up throughout the club with stencils showing the distance rules and anti-viral fogging sanitiser will be used in club changing rooms.

“We know we can safely manage the 1st team squad of about 20, but as the rest of the teams start to come back the control problems will get bigger. We have 26 teams from the 1st XV down. Each introduction will be timed appropriately and paced. But it will be a challenge. We have to see how the Compliance Officers work and how many we may need per team. For the 1st’s we are starting with 2.”

St. Mary’s and UL Bohs are just two examples of the hard work, expertise and volunteer spirit that exist in Irish rugby clubs.

Assistance is available to all clubs as part of the #ReturnToRugby For Clubs guidelines – click here for more information.

Silver Lining

Covid-19 has made the world a more challenging place but clubs and their members have risen to that challenge with fundraisers and work in their community and supporting front line workers.

Ironically the lock-down and social distancing has brought many club members closer than ever before.

“It’s most definitely brought the members closer together. We had a weekly letter we sent out to members that was everything but rugby. We did articles on gardening, healthy eating and then stuff on the history of the club” says Crawford.

“This became a way that members started communicating and then we had zoom training calls for members of all ages. We had online music sessions, we have people building garden boxes and sharing the knowledge. We’re closer now than ever before but if we want to get back to rugby we will all have to work together and follow the step by step guidelines.”