Irish rugby bosses must pay more respect to clubs and the women's game

David Corkery on the return of the AIL and why the IRFU have questions to answer the recent failure to qualify for the World Cup
Irish rugby bosses must pay more respect to clubs and the women's game

Dejected Ireland players after the Rugby World Cup 2022 qualifying tournament match with Scotland. Picture: Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile

WITH round one of the Energia All-Ireland Leagues done and dusted, club rugby is, thankfully, back in full swing and it won’t be too long before we see who the strugglers and table-toppers are going to be.

For the players in the 60 AIL clubs, aspirations and goals vary drastically. While some feel that making the bench in Division 2C is the pinnacle of their careers, others have higher objectives and try to use the loftier divisions as a platform to obtaining a professional contract.

Both goals are a far cry from each other, but one man’s or woman’s dreams are very different to another’s and the chances of earning a crust in this country playing rugby is becoming harder and harder.

In recent weeks the IRFU have had to deal with some shocking incidents with regards to the ladies game when Connacht changed beside bins and rats in a derelict area. The scenes triggered a backlash over the standard of facilities and the IRFU and Leinster Rugby issued a statement apologising for the “unacceptable error”.

The women’s game was then dealt a bigger blow when the national side failed to reach next year’s World Cup in New Zealand after they lost to Spain and Scotland.

Eimear Considine. Picture: Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile
Eimear Considine. Picture: Roberto Bregani/Sportsfile

Clearly they are well down the pecking order when it comes to the IRFU promoting the sport. However, if they have any hope of the sport attracting a larger cohort of participants and supporters, there must be a complete overhaul of the structures and money spent.

There can be no halfway house when it comes to international rugby and the IRFU either give it 100% and go professional with a set number of female players or reduce their expectations.

The gap between amateurs and professionals is so vast now, it brings into question player safety and wellbeing.

TRIGGER

The failure to qualify for the RWC should trigger a major investigation that needs to be made public.

Since rugby went professional after the 1995 World Cup the club game in Ireland has suffered. While I fully understand the fiscal difficulties, the clubs and schools of this Island are still very much at the coalface of producing the next Sextons, O’Mahonys, and Furlongs for the national side; HQ must not be blinded by the availability of players south of the equator.

Munster's Peter O'Mahony competes in the air with Ruben Van Heerden. The AIL is no longer a production line for professional rugby. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Munster's Peter O'Mahony competes in the air with Ruben Van Heerden. The AIL is no longer a production line for professional rugby. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

In order to make it as a pro here, you must really find yourself in the system by the age of 16. 

Rugby is becoming more and more like soccer, requiring specialist intervention at as early an age as possible. Players need to be in some kind of provincial academy by the time they leave school.

The problem is coaches can now look to contract an established player from abroad who is capable of starting in his first 15 and need not worry about the next generation. Most professional coaches couldn’t give a fiddlers about what kind of structure they leave behind when they move on, they’re completely results-driven.

Just take a look at soccer in the UK and watch how many managers will lose their jobs by the end of the season because of poor results.

I guess this is just how professional sport works, but let it be a lesson to all young players who want to play professionally. You are just one serious injury or one contract rejection away from nothing and all those phone calls that you were receiving will very quickly dry up as soon as your ability to perform is deemed over.

The AIL is a far cry from its glory days of the 1990s when all the provincial and international players were allowed wear their club colours with pride and it was viewed as the pathway to higher honours.

On the plus side, what hasn’t been diluted is the honesty you will see on any given Saturday when the players put their bodies on the line for little or no reward.

If you want to see honesty in rugby at the highest of levels, get yourself to an AIL game.

You won’t see any internationals, but you will see a kind of raw morality that you will not find anywhere else.

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