Clontarf are a reporting a hugely positive lift in attendances at their Energia All-Ireland League games for the 2021/22 season, but they are still hopeful of their biggest crowd of the season this weekend.
Castle Avenue will host their Division 1A semi-final against Cork Constitution this Saturday with a 2.30pm kick-off. The last time the sides met in knockout rugby was the 2019 league final which was won 28-13 by Cork Con.
‘Tarf are putting out all the stops for the upcoming game with face-painting, food trucks, music and even free matchday haircuts promised for the occasion.
Club volunteers also came together for a Good Friday clean-up of the grounds to make sure everything is ready for Saturday’s semi-final showdown.
Their form has been scintillating. 77 points over 18 games as they became the first ever Division 1A team to register 17 wins in a regular season. Does that explain the increase in footfall coming through the gate?
Yes, winning rugby always helps to build support but it is nothing new at Castle Avenue. Andy Wood’s men have won the All-Ireland League title twice since his return to the helm in 2011, and they have played in four of the last five AIL finals.
The Energia All-Ireland League was sorely missed by all 60 participating teams during an enforced two-year hiatus, but is that what is behind the boost?
“That’s a part of it,” explains Clontarf’s Chairperson Of Marketing, Sam O’Byrne. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder, I suppose. At the same time, there are things being done we haven’t seen before that are helping to build awareness and invite people to our games.
We’ve seen almost 15% more people coming up the avenue for Energia All-Ireland League games this season, which is so positive to see.
“We are fortunate in Clontarf in the geographical location of the club – it’s located in the heart of the area, so it’s a great meeting point for people.
“During the lockdowns, it became something of a sanctuary for some, who used it as a place to go for a walk, exercise or just meet a friend outdoors.
“I think that feeling has remained with people in the community, and they’re still using a Saturday game as a reason to catch up with others, and that has added to our numbers on game day.
“So far this season I’ve met current and former team-mates, old teachers, coaches and friends, as well as their new arrivals so it really has been a place to come together and catch up – well worth a tenner!
“Our form hasn’t been bad either, which certainly has helped. But on top of these factors, we’ve also placed a strong emphasis on our social channels.
“The highlights packages that the IRFU provide have certainly helped showcase the league – being able to show our followers the talented rugby players that are taking to the field each weekend has been a great addition this season.
“It’s making those who may not be aware of how exciting the game is at this level take notice, and ultimately come down and see for themselves what the league is all about.”
O’Byrne added: “We try to be quite structured in our approach on social media, with weekend fixtures and results published consistently, along with the highlights packages and if we mange to get a photographer at a game that really helps bring some extra colour to the channels.
“It can be a big enough undertaking to keep the channels up to date with fresh content each week, but once you have a bit of a plan in place (usually in my head!) it tends to run smoothly enough.
“This Saturday is hopefully going to be a highlight in the community after what’s happened over the past two years. A lot of work has gone into the day from the volunteers and our office and bar staff, and the aim is to make it a day for all the family.
“We know the players have put in the work for what happens on the pitch, so it’s up to us to look after the goings-on off it, and we think we’ve put together a decent day for all of the family to enjoy.”
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – MEN’S DIVISIONS PLAY-OFF FIXTURES:
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
Saturday, April 23
Division 1A Semi-Finals:
Clontarf v Cork Constitution, Castle Avenue
Terenure College v Lansdowne, Lakelands Park
Division 1A Relegation Play-Off First Leg:
UCC v Ballynahinch, the Mardyke
Division 1B Promotion Play-Off Semi-Finals:
Old Wesley v Naas, Energia Park
Highfield v Shannon, Woodleigh Park
Division 1B Relegation Play-Off First Leg:
Navan v Banbridge, Balreask Old
Division 2A Promotion Play-Off Semi-Finals:
Queen’s University v Ballymena, Dub Lane
Cashel v Buccaneers, Spafield
Division 2A Relegation Play-Off First Leg:
Rainey Old Boys v Nenagh Ormond, Hatrick Park
Division 2B Promotion Play-Off Semi-Finals:
Greystones v Galway Corinthians, Dr Hickey Park
Belfast Harlequins v Blackrock College, Deramore Park
Division 2B Relegation Play-Off First Leg:
Galwegians v Ballina, Crowley Park
Division 2C Promotion Play-Off Semi-Finals:
Enniscorthy v Tullamore, Alcast Park
Skerries v Bangor, Holmpatrick
Division 2C Relegation Play-Off Second Leg:
Clonmel v City of Derry, Ardgaoithe
Saturday, April 30
Division 1B Promotion Play-Off Final:
Old Wesley/Naas v Highfield/Shannon, tbc
Division 1B Relegation Play-Off Second Leg:
Banbridge v Navan, Rifle Park
Division 2A Promotion Play-Off Final:
Queen’s University/Ballymena v Cashel/Buccaneers, tbc
Division 2A Relegation Play-Off Second Leg:
Nenagh Ormond v Rainey Old Boys, New Ormond Park
Division 2B Promotion Play-Off Final:
Greystones/Galway Corinthians v Belfast Harlequins/Blackrock College, tbc
Division 2B Relegation Play-Off Second Leg:
Ballina v Galwegians, Heffernan Park
Division 2C Promotion Play-Off Final:
Enniscorthy/Tullamore v Skerries/Bangor, tbc
Division 2C Relegation Play-Off Second Leg:
City of Derry v Clonmel, Judge’s Road
Sunday, May 1
Energia All-Ireland League Division 1A Final:
Clontarf/Cork Constitution v Terenure College/Lansdowne, Aviva Stadium, 3pm