AVING only one Limerick man in the current Munster academy? That is not a cause for concern but a positive sign of a successful, province-wide rugby development programme, Munster chief executive Ian Flanagan insisted this week.
Flanagan is nothing if not aspirational in his desire to propel Munster into a global sporting presence, as became evident during his hour-long video conference with the media this week. Diversifying revenue streams away from matchday income has been a priority for Flanagan since he took the reins of the southern province from its first head man Garrett Fitzgerald last autumn, and that has only been heightened by the current shutdown of the sport due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has seen Irish Rugby’s incomings “fall off a cliff” in the words of IRFU chief executive Philip Browne.
So amid the necessary firefighting measures being implemented by Munster, and Flanagan’s outline of the pressures he and the other provincial CEOs are facing in the new economic landscape, the Corkman also found time to talk about his plans for growing the Munster brand worldwide, developing its “digital space”, enhancing the matchday experience, and building “world-class” facilities across the province in order to get a homegrown production line of talent established in all six counties.
That should not be at the expense of the existing strongholds in Limerick and Cork City but in addition to them, Flanagan explained.
And because of that, the former Leicester City commercial director is bullish rather than concerned about the fact that St Munchin’s and Young Munster lock Paddy Kelly will be the only member of the 2020-21 academy to hail from Limerick.
“No, we’re looking at it as a positive,” Flanagan said this week, having spoken about the success of developing talent pipelines in West Cork and Waterford.
West Cork had been, he said “a really productive scene for us in terms of talents”.
“Looking at our academy, we’ve got two players from Waterford, we’ve got a player from Kerry, we’ve got the four from West Cork. I would say that Munster is all of Munster. We want it to be right across the six counties.
“We want Munster to be visible and relevant everywhere in Munster as much as we can. I would love to be in a position to devote even more resources into that space. The Cork Centre of Excellence (at Musgrave Park), for which we received the government large-scale sports infrastructure funding grant earlier this year, is a big step forward in terms of having a world-class facility on the ground in Cork.
“I would love to be doing more in terms of bricks and mortar facilities and genuine infrastructure and capital investments to enable us to be visible to talent and to harness talent in other parts of the province. Where we find that money and how we make it happen in the coming years is again, a key focus for us because we know the talent is out there. That’s not to neglect our usual breeding grounds in Limerick and in Cork. We’re hugely fortunate that the schools in Limerick eat, breathe, and sleep rugby. You can see that by the results in the last few years with Glenstal.
“There’s a very strong Limerick club scene which is thriving as much as ever. That’s a huge positive for us but I think it’s also a great signal for the overall strength of rugby in the province and the overall strength of Munster that we’re managing to find players and bring players into the academy and from other parts of the province and the bar is continually being raised in terms of quality coming into the academy.
“That’s a huge positive for us and a huge focus for Peter Malone and his academy team. It’s an area that we’ll always continue to invest because it is always a strong and vibrant grassroots and the domestic game is always the bedrock of a strong Munster province.”
Pressed on the impact of that for potential players from Limerick, Flanagan added: “I’ve mentioned Glenstal and you can put in Munchin’s in terms of their success in the last number of years as well. Rugby in Limerick is as strong as it ever was but we are absolutely seeing it as a positive that in addition to our strong Limerick base that we’re finding talented players to come into our academy.
“Obviously we have a limited number of slots in the academy and who we recruit depends very much on our long-term depth chart and talent succession planning, but we’re very clear that we’re finding players with the potential to wear the senior red shirt. and hopefully the green shirt of Ireland, in other parts of the province.
“We see that as a huge plus for the overall strength of rugby in the province and for the overall strength of Munster.”
While Munster bid to strengthen their playing foundations at home, Flanagan must search beyond the borders for new revenue streams.
“Diversifying our revenues is key. I would like to ensure that we are not as reliant on matchday income in future. How we regrow the parts of the club and the commercial business of the club is important.
“Obviously, we want to reinvest any additional revenues in improving the squad and the facilities for the squad and the stadium and so on. We want to be the best, we want to be successful. As far as I’m concerned, the more money we can generate, the more we can reinvest in making everything about Munster bigger and better.
“The digital space, how we engage with Munster supporters who are outside Munster, who are outside Ireland, the global fanbase that’s out there — how we are able to replicate as much as we can do the matchday experience and bring them closer to the club and to engage with them in more relevant ways.
“Digital is a big focus for me as well and that’s an area where I think we need to invest additional funds and generate additional funds to do so.
“So, we have clear areas of improvement and we have a clear project in place to do that as well.”