Cork's leading club rugby teams facing a reduced new season

Cork's leading club rugby teams facing a reduced new season
Midleton's Stuart Lee kicks the opening points against Sunday's Well during the Energia AIL Division 2C tie. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

RUGBY clubs in all four corners of the country are studying the IRFU’s pathway to a resumption of playing next season.

The Union are stressing games, regardless of grades and standards, will only return in line with Government directives.

For the moment it’s all about putting the proper structures in place to cope with the constraints imposed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The first phase of four is the safety planning stage and the appointment of a Covid-19 safety officer in all clubs, who are also encouraged to avail of the Union’s training and education on the disease.

Further, clubs are to complete the Covid-19 club risk assessment and safety plan with the clubhouses only open for essential work.

The second stage, the reduced activities phase, calls for the implementation of the safety plan, adherence to all public health measures in addition to ongoing briefing and education for members.

The training recommendations here are reduced activities and closed skills before the third stage, the non-contact phase, permits training and non-contact games.

The fourth and final stage, the contact phase, allows limited contact training with a graduated return to contact. Clubhouses may open.

In their directive, the Union are saying Clubs should only begin their plans for a return to rugby when they are ready and resources are in place. Support structures will still be available for them at provincial and national levels when they are ready.

Rugby is in the Covid-19 Safety Planning stage of a return-to-rugby roadmap.

UCC's Louis Kahn is tackled by Terenure College's Eoin Joyce at The Mardyke. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
UCC's Louis Kahn is tackled by Terenure College's Eoin Joyce at The Mardyke. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

More detail on rugby matters will be available in due course, but for now clubs are to focus on safety.

It’s the first step in bringing rugby back to clubs and that step must start with safety, according to the Union.

Last season’s energia All-Ireland League wasn’t completed and declared null and void which is a factor likely to influence the shape of the 2020-21 season, whenever it starts.

Recently, Cork Constitution head coach Brian Hickey spoke about a possible pre-season in September followed by games locally initially and then into the province before contemplating AIL action.

It’s a logical step because players can travel in individual cars and don’t require coaches for games.

It might even be a case of dressingrooms not being available either, on medical grounds, meaning players would come togged to play.

You could see early-season games involving the leading Cork clubs, Con, UCC and Highfield in one category with Dolphin, Sunday’s Well and Midleton in the other.

Cork Constitution's Gerry Hurley kicks a conversion with help from Niall Kenneally against UCC during the Energia AIL Division 1A game at Templehill. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork Constitution's Gerry Hurley kicks a conversion with help from Niall Kenneally against UCC during the Energia AIL Division 1A game at Templehill. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

They would then branch out to play clubs of similar abilities in Limerick and Tipperary, again on the basis players could travel in cars without needing buses.

But it’s the start of the AIL which will be all-consuming after the summer and what shape will define the competition.

Some mentioned it resuming in December or even January with either a nine- or 14-game league minus the home and away arrangements as was the case in the early years.

Clubs were canvassed for their opinions of what they would prefer depending on the league starting.

The current 18-game schedule could only be feasible with the opening games in October, but this seems unlikely.

A later beginning would cater for a straight forward nine-game schedule, five games at home and four away or five on the road and four at base.

But, it may not be as straight forward as this because Highfield, for example, who were denied what seemed certain promotion to division 1A for the first time, could be included in a new-look top tier.

For the moment, though, it’s trying to enjoy the summer before thinking rugby again.

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