Rugby Gordon D’Arcy: Clubs still hold the key to transformation of Irish rugby

Rugby These ingredients are glamorous.

Rugby in Ireland used to be all about the club. That’s where you began and where you ended. Professionalism made it about something else.

Serious enough week in the D’Arcy household. All hands on deck. Between battling an outbreak of chickenpox, I got around to reading the Economic and Social Research Institute’s (ESRI) report commissioned by the Irish Rugby Football Union, entitled: “Rugby in Ireland: a statistical analysis of participation.”

Anyone still reading?

For those who have survived that paragraph I won’t waste your time. I am not questioning the ESRI’s findings but it is hardly revelatory information for volunteers on the ground in places like Wexford Wanderers.

“Children play rugby at clubs and at school, but many drop out when they move from primary to second level and when they leave second level school,” says the report.

We have a good idea why; the pathway becomes harder to follow because the club game has not been adequately cared for in the modern era.

And the IRFU communications department’s response – tagged onto the report’s press release – that the loss of young players at a certain age is being offset by “Play Rugby and XRugby” doesn’t wash with people who truly care about the future of the sport on this island.

It doesn’t address the problem of player fall away when transitioning from primary to secondary school.

A friend of mine, Kevin Cooney, is now involved in Wexford Wanderers because his son has taken up the game. Mini Rugby in clubs is well organised but pales in comparison to the GAA. Parents know this because they bring their children to both.

There are still 200 kids out every Saturday morning in Wexford. I’m due down for a book signing. I wrote Gordon’s Game with Paul Howard, a story aimed at 10- to 12-year-olds, because I remember being that boy.

It is 1991. Another Gordon [Hamilton] has just scored a sensational try at Lansdowne road in a World Cup quarter-final. The blonde mop of Simon Geoghegan gives me a new hero as hurley and sliotar get set aside to find out what running with the oval ball is all about.

Kids from places like New Ross or Ballina are just as desperate to play for Leinster or Connacht as boys in private schools. Tadhg Furlong and Seánie O’Brien will back me up.

There is a moral obligation to give these children a clear route into the professional game that does not leave them feeling helpless when the big noise from Clongowes or St Michael’s arrives at trials.

Walk away

Is this being done?

Not well enough.

The route to the top for kids from non-rugby patches remains fraught with resistance every step of the way. I understand why they walk away. I get why the lack of barriers in GAA or soccer can be more appealing.

I am saying nothing new. If change is ever going to happen it will take time. And serious investment.

Rugby Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong is from New Ross. Maybe Enniscorthy can provide the next professional flanker or prop. Photograph: Billyh Stickland/Inpho
Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong is from New Ross. Maybe Enniscorthy can provide the next professional fla

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