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'A top-level AIL game is a better product than your run-of-the-mill Pro14 game'

The Club Scene Podcast has picked up a loyal and engaged following since its launch in 2018.

Updated Oct 3rd 2020, 12:28 PM

THE IDEA FOR a podcast about Irish club rugby only struck three years ago, but the love affair with the All-Ireland League began all of three decades ago for Daragh Frawley, Maurice Hartery, and Ger Burke – the trio who make up The Club Scene Podcast.

Since its launch in 2018, The Club Scene has picked up a dedicated, engaged following of several thousand listeners who tune in each week for something that simply wasn’t there before.

The mixture of slagging, previews, reviews insightful interviews, humour, and bar-stool chat has made it to the go-to for AIL aficionados around the country, while their live shows in Limerick and Dublin have been well-received.

“The three pillars of the podcast are Inform, Educate, and Entertain,” explains host Frawley, whose background in the media is key to producing the podcast. “I’ll leave you to decide which one of us does which!”

EMLmHskVAAEsoCI Frawley, Hartery, and Burke at their live show in Old Wesley RFC last year.

Frawley, Hartery, and Burke were born-and-bred on Limerick club rugby and the passion instilled in them at an early age shines through to this day.

“I’m Cookies all my life,” explains Burke, who is back coaching with Young Munster alongside his commitments with Presentation College Brothers, Cork. “I had a spectacularly average AIL career that lasted all of two or three years.”

Burke fondly recalls going to games with his father at the packed-out Thomond Park, Tom Clifford Park, or Dooradoyle back when the AIL was the only show in town.

He played for the Cookies before heading to St. Munchin’s College but is thankful for how he stayed connected with his club – “something that doesn’t really exist anymore” – meaning he returned post-school and won a Munster Senior Cup as well as coming close to AIL success under Mike Prendergast.

Hartery says he was “absolutely cat-malojian” at rugby but he fell for the game at Thomond matches every Sunday, where “all the parents would go in after the game for a rake of pints and we’d just be out playing rugby on the field.”

Half his family are Shannon heads - Collie Tucker and Mossie Lawlor are his cousins – so Saturdays were spent watching senior rugby there or in Young Munster, who had a few Thomond players in their squad.

Though he fell out of touch during his college years and as he began getting jobs as a team manager with Munster Rugby sides, Hartery agreed to return as Thomond manager one drunken night after the club’s promotion to Division 2A and has been in the thick of it since, even now that he’s based in the UK as team manager of Premiership club Northampton Saints.

ronan-ogara Ronan O'Gara playing for Cork Con in 2001. Source: INPHO

Frawley, meanwhile, started playing with his father’s club, Richmond, but also recalls big days elsewhere.

“It was Taz bars and Lucozade for us, but you could have 6,000 or 7,000 people in Dooradoyle and as a kid, you were throwing the ball around on the pitch after and the same at Thomond Park.”

Frawley went on to star for Castletroy College as they won the Munster Schools Senior Cup in 2008 before moving into senior club rugby with UL Bohemians, spending two years with St Mary’s in Dublin, then returning to Bohs before retiring in 2019.

So they have the CVs to talk about club rugby and when Frawley and Hartery felt their regular in-depth AIL conversations could potentially work as a podcast – “we weren’t even drinking at the time!” – they roped in Burke, who admits he’s “a bit of an AIL nerd.”

The reaction ever since has been extremely positive, with clubs sending in transfer lists and match reports, as well as inviting them around the country for more live shows. 

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“The AIL has been crying out for coverage, so most people absolutely love that there is someone giving them a shout out on a podcast,” says Hartery.

They all agree that club rugby in Ireland is hugely underrated and underattended, and a major theme of our conversation is that people don’t know what they’re missing out on in the AIL.

paul-oconnell Paul O'Connell playing for Young Munster in 2008. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“I really believe that a top-level game of AIL rugby is a better product than your run-of-the-mill Pro14 game,” says Burke. “Some people don’t understand how good the rugby is at a club within a 10km radius of them. That has to change.”

Increasingly common live streams of games should help, as should the effort being made by clubs to share highlights, but The Club Scene highlight the damaging situation of schools players often not being free to continue playing with their clubs throughout their teenage years – therefore losing a key connection.

“Munster was built on the clubs,” says Frawley. “Unless there’s a connectivity between the schools and clubs, coupled to Munster, then the province is going to just become more or less a South African outpost in a few years.

“Without that connection, you’re not going to see an Earls, an O’Mahony, a Murray.”

They’re also keen to highlight the sense of community within club rugby – even if that’s obviously diminished for now due to Covid-19 – with Hartery pointing out that “the social aspect of it is massive.”

“I’ll be going to the Cookies until the day I die,” adds Burke. “I’ll know the person on the gate, the person on the bar, the person putting out the flags, and those relationships are so important.

“You feel at home when you go in the gate. A club gives you an entertaining game but also the pints, the craic, the family part of it. We’re starting to lose sight of that.”

Hartery would love to see a situation in the future where every single professionally- or academy-contracted player who isn’t named in their province’s matchday 23 for the weekend is instead playing AIL rugby rather than sitting in the stands at the RDS, Thomond Park, Kingspan Stadium, or the Sportsground.

YRZwwjeP The podcast launched in 2018.

Of course, Covid has put everything in a holding pattern and will cause serious disruption to the club season ahead, with a shortened AIL campaign hopefully beginning in January 2021 after the current Community Series

But The Club Scene will power on as it continues to grow, with AIL sponsors Energia also providing support for the podcast. 

“Our chats can be close to the bone but they’ve said there’s no problem, and we cannot speak highly enough of the team in Energia,” says Frawley.

They hope to get out for another live show in Ulster in 2021, with a trip to Connacht to follow next season and they hope to generate more interest in domestic club rugby along the way.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s so enjoyable,” says Frawley. “It boils down to three lads talking about club rugby, which is brilliant rugby and great craic. 

“The people who listen to the podcast know that but the people who don’t, they don’t realise what they’re missing in the AIL.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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