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Dublin: 0°C Friday 23 April 2021

Why are so many Irish players turning their backs on club rugby after U20s?

Detachment, a lack of fun, and getting balled out of it in the pissing rain: Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman discuss Irish amateur rugby’s recruitment problem.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

ON THIS WEEK’S The42 Rugby Weekly (available now wherever you get your podcasts), Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella sat down in studio with Gavan Casey to discuss what’s left of the Guinness Six Nations as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc with the sporting schedule.

On a week in which there might otherwise have been little to chat about beyond the fixtures that will go ahead as listed this weekend, plans to move the competition behind a subscription-TV paywall were discussed and dismantled by ‘Berch’ and Murray, the latter of whom pondered aloud if the respective national unions actually give a tuppenny you-know-what about the growth of the game provided their coffers are suitably lined.

The42 Members also suggested several topics of discussion in the WhatsApp group — including the question mark which now surely lingers over the 2020 Koh Samui Cup — with member Barry Lambkin looking at a grassroots issue closer to home.

Pointing towards the proportion of schools players who never pick up a ball again post-Leaving Cert, Barry asked: “Bernard has been involved with provincial clubs like Tullow so I’m sure he’s seen the issues with rural players going away to college after youths and not playing club, but can he see any solution to the disconnect between schools and clubs that could keep these guys playing and build the amateur game?”

Berch and Murray had their say to which you can listen in the full episode below.

If you don’t have headphones handy, here’s how they responded to Barry’s question:

Bernard Jackman: “I think a lot of them play [U]20s. A lot of the Dublin clubs have got two 20s teams at the moment, so that’s 60 bodies, really, which have come from school into the clubs.

“The challenge seems to be post-20s. They [the clubs] don’t seem to do enough in that period of two years to actually ingrain in them to become ‘club men’ or ‘club women’. That’s the worry.

I understand that a lot of fellas focus on being a pro, the dream is taken away from them, and they lose interest. But I think if you can really get them into the club, out of the 20s into [other teams]… So, like, when I was 19, I played McCorry cup for Lansdowne and suddenly I was on the third[-team] ‘B’s for the cups. And then I played third ‘A’s, thirds. And you might be playing on a Tuesday night and a few of the players are obviously working, and they’d buy me a few pints — I was a student. I became ingrained in the club, and I then got an opportunity to go to Clontarf. But I became ingrained there [in Clontarf] and I stayed there for my whole career bar when I was in Sale.

“I think that’s the key, is to get them out of their bubble of just playing with their peers in terms of age, and try and get them to actually become part of the fabric of a club. And we’re not doing that really well, and that’s the reason why the clubs who used to have third ‘Cs’, ‘D’s, are now only fielding three teams — literally, adult numbers are dropping.

“You’ve got a massive amount of mini-rugby kids, there’s a massive amount of people playing youth, schools, lots playing 20s, but after that they just seem to fall away bar the very committed few.

“But I think the biggest thing is, as human beings we love attachment — we love to be part of something. And probably in school, you’re very attached to your school, [whereas] in U20s, two years probably isn’t enough to really set strong roots in a club. That’s the key, is to get them involved in the club — whether they keep playing or not, or they’re just supporters or volunteers or coaches. That’s the challenge.

And it’s difficult. New Zealand — I spoke to a Kiwi journalist the other day and there’s a massive review of rugby in New Zealand across the board because the clubs are really struggling and players aren’t playing on. Kiwis used to play ’til 35, 36, and it was a big part of their life. And now, they’ve got other things to do socially whereas the club used to be the Mecca on a Saturday night — everyone went to the club.

“I know we’re competing against lots of different things but we [people in general] are still very primal in that we like to be attached to something — like part of a group, a family — and that’s the challenge for clubs: to do whatever they need to do to attract people towards feeling an attachment to the club.”

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marty-cummins-helps-matthew-stockdale Galwegians’ Marty Cummins helps Matthew Stockdale of Dungannon during an Energia All-Ireland League Division 2B game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Murray Kinsella: “I’d just add very briefly, it should be fun first and foremost.

Bernard: “Of course.”

Murray: “Particularly in Junior rugby which I’ve played — and I’ve had one of the most enjoyable times ever playing for Munster Juniors where the coaches…not that we were going on the piss, but the fun element was the primary thing. There was no one roaring at you, like.

There’s nothing worse than turning up on a Tuesday or Thursday in the pissing rain to play Junior rugby and some lad’s absolutely balling you out of it. You don’t want to turn up again the next day. I think clubs need to have that focus and maybe sometimes forget about, ‘We want to get into the AIL.’ There’s nothing wrong with being a Junior club and having a really engaged, core group of players, a couple of teams, and a really good social vibe around it. There’s nothing wrong with that.

“I think everyone’s so ambitious and that’s great — everyone wants to play good rugby. But make fun the primary thing.”

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to discuss why the Six Nations’ potential move behind a subscription-TV paywall is a “horrendous” idea, and the problems faced by Ireland and other countries in retaining players beyond the U20s age grade

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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