Aidan Corr Column - What does the future hold for club rugby?

Action from a Garryowen v Young Munster game in 1996 - it's a long time since club games attracted crowds as big as this one
In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Aidan Corr looks at some of the new regulations that are being forced on club rugby teams.

In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Aidan Corr looks at some of the new regulations that are being forced on club rugby teams.

IT’S an awful long time since I had to queue to get into a club game in Limerick.

It could have been in 1995 when 10,000+ crammed into Thomond Park to see Garryowen beat Young Munster 23-3 in a Munster Senior Cup final or for some memorable AIL fixtures over the following decade as Shannon marched triumphantly to a series of AIL titles.

Unquestionably, Limerick has been the leading supporter of club rugby on this island for decades and who can forget Young Munster’s only AIL success in 1993 when 20,000 fans, a black and amber clad goat and Dodo’s pramload of barking dogs brought a unique sense of fun and club loyalty to the newly-formed All-Ireland League decider in Lansdowne Road.

The recently released IRFU Ulster Bank All Ireland League Participation Entry Criteria, which landed on my desk this week, made interesting reading and going on its contents, the goat, the dogs and whoever claimed to be their minders, can forget about getting entry to further fixtures under IRFU jurisdiction.

The criteria document isn’t pulling any punches: from May of this year clubs will be required to apply annually for participation in what is now called the UBL. The next line is not very assuring for those who are already struggling to keep heads above water. It says: “The implementation of the Participation Criteria carries the implicit assumption that there may be a number of clubs who fail to fulfil the Participation Entry criteria in their entirety, and so fall out of the UBL.”

That has an ominous ring to it.

The word ‘criteria’ features largely in a document that is equally laden with abbreviations: UBL (Ulster Bank League), CEA (Club Excellence Award), PPS (nothing to do with your income tax but is brief for Player Points System), the QL (Qualifying League which is the junior leagues) and PC (Participation Criteria).

The bottom line is that rugby on this island is entering a new era. A time of change when only the highest standard is good enough for clubs who want to play in the country’s top club league. Even the winners of the junior leagues will come under the new scheme by Feburary 27 next. To participate in the Round Robin “they must complete the Participation Agreement and the Proforma in line with other clubs and demonstrate that they achieve the criteria by Friday, March 27” before being even allowed to compete for promotion to senior ranks.

The first I heard of this Participation Entry Criteria was at a UBL game a few weeks ago in this city. A senior member of the home club expressed his concerns about it, pointing out they are stretched as it is to recruit sufficient volunteers to man all the required posts, mostly on home match days. He spoke, with justification, of his concern regarding proposals of a possible penalty points system. His club has never had a scoreboard, for instance, but they are not the only ones in this region who are guilty of this omission.

When he studies the document more closely, I fear that himself and his fellow officers will have entered a higher level of stress-related anxiety. When fully implemented clubs are not going to get away with any breach of the Governance and Organisational Structure.

In brief, everything has to be in writing and recorded by the club such as annual accounts submitted by November 1 each season, player payment documentation completed and submitted, clubhouses updated, roster of club officials and players, proof of relationship with local community as well as . . . an audible public address system and documentation evidencing match-day marketing and advertising!

The document goes on and on and with eight clubs in the UBL at present and most clubs battling on despite dwindling attendances, one wonders what season 2015/16 will hold for Limerick senior rugby?