Highfield and Cork Con chief among clubs getting to grips with season cancellation

Highfield and Cork Con chief among clubs getting to grips with season cancellation
Highfield's Paddy Ryan desperately holds onto the ball during the AIL match against Shannon at Woodleigh Park in December. Picture: Howard Crowdy

With 14 rounds in the books and only four remaining, you could forgive some Energia All Ireland League clubs for feeling aggrieved when the IRFU brought the seasons to an immediate end last Thursday.

A halt was called to all incomplete national and provincial competitions for men and women with no promotion or relegation in any of the five divisions of the Energia Men’s All-Ireland League. Yet the response has been overwhelmingly one of understanding and, according to the IRFU, indicative of a willingness to contribute in some way to the greater cause of battling Covid-19.

The response of UL Bohemian RFC perhaps encapsulates that sense of community. Top of Women’s Division 1 by 11 points from Railway Union, and at the lower end of the men’s Division 2A the club tweeted: “Although it’s not the perfect ending, it’s the right one. For now we will be stronger together by staying apart.”

Cork club Highfield RFC were also big losers in the decision-making process. Nine points clear at the top of the men’s Division 1B and set for promotion to the top tier, the Timmy Ryan-coached side will have to start their bid for a place among the elite clubs from scratch next season rather than playing against them.

Yet with their Woodleigh Park grounds adjoining Cork University Hospital in the city’s western suburbs, director of rugby Rob Bogue said a sense of perspective was not too difficult to find.

“No club could be more understanding than Highfield, positioned where we are next door to CUH,” Bogue told the Irish Examiner. “CUH staff use our car park as well so we’re totally cognisant of the bigger picture.

“It was only the week before that the league was suspended so we were caught a little bit by surprise by the timing of the announcement and we’d probably like to know the process behind it, but we won’t be roaring our heads off about it. I’m sure they examined it in good faith and gave it every opportunity.

“It’s very disappointing for players, who have given their time and effort, the coaching staff, and all involved, but they are all aware of the bigger picture at the moment as well and, fingers crossed, we can get out the other side and start playing rugby again. But for now, rugby is a very minor concern for people.”

Highfield’s plight found sympathy with runaway 1A league leaders Cork Constitution, whose season ended with them unbeaten in 14 games and 12 points clear of Garryowen, while they will share the Bateman Cup with fellow finalists Lansdowne.

Club president Kevin Fielding said: “It’s going to go down as a strange season. We’re in a situation that a lot of other clubs find themselves in, not least Highfield, who had a phenomenal season, were well clear at the top of 1B and looked like they were going to be in 1A for the first time in their history.

“The whole thing has been taken away from them. They would justifiably be upset. Some have said maybe they could have promoted the leader in each of the divisions and end up with 11 teams in each division and what harm?

“Equally, no team would have had to go through the pain of relegation. That would have been a great fillip for the likes of Highfield and (2A leaders) Barnhall and the other leaders.

“Our players are gutted and very disappointed by this. It’s starting to hit home with them now.

“They’ve worked very, very hard and you can see why this is bitterly disappointing to them but at least they can look back on winning the Munster Senior Cup, which was fantastic.

“Now we have to start thinking about next year, which is very dispiriting but we don’t want to be myopic about it. There’s a much bigger picture in terms of people’s health and the worry about far more important things than rugby and sport at this time.”

For rugby’s professional players, meanwhile, the show must go on despite the suspension of their season indefinitely.

The Munster squad this Monday began their remote training programmes having been stood down for eight weeks, until May 18.

Equipment from Munster’s High Performance Centre is being distributed to enable squad and academy players to fulfil their respective programmes set out by head of athletic performance Denis Logan and lead academy development athletic coach Ged McNamara.

Monitoring will continue with daily access and communication made possible using online platforms. The province described their actions as “maintaining an elite high-performance environment whilst off-site”.

“The players have been set goals accordingly with the focus as always on achieving those targets. The collaboration between all departments will continue in ensuring players receive the best care and remain engaged as they maintain levels of fitness and conditioning, follow nutritional plans and continue with skill and rugby development over the next period.

“With the wider community following work-from-home practices, managing mental well-being is hugely important during this time, and remaining connected helps in this regard.”

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