Sadly, many were watched by the proverbial man and his dog.
The grassroots had so much to do with the successes of Ulster, Munster and Leinster through the 90s but has been allowed to fade away with the future of some of our most famous clubs in considerable doubt.
Blackrock College, the pride of Leinster at schools level for over a century, continue to produce quality players only for the cream to be plucked by the likes of the Leinster Academy with the result that the first XV is propping up Division 1 and their resources are so stretched they don’t field junior teams.
When the All-Ireland League was founded in 1991, Wanderers were holders of the Leinster League and Cup and were expected to sweep all before them in the new series.
Today they find themselves last of the 52 teams in the competition having lost each of their six matches so far in Division 2B. A club that gave men like Ronnie Dawson, the Kavanaghs, Kevin Flynn and countless others to the national side may soon find itself outside the senior fold.
Instonians are an example of another famous club that has fallen a long way having been, like Wanderers, many people’s idea of a major force when the AIL began.
Alas, for the club that produced the Hewitts, the McKibbins and so many others has also fallen on hard times, lying third from bottom in Division 2B with just one win from six. There are examples of other veritable institutions of the game facing bleak futures. And yet there is the other side of the coin as clubs with little or no tradition are enjoying massive success.
Bruff and Cashel are just two examples.
Bruff was founded in 1970 but through the encouragement of excellent coaches and many talented youngsters, they attained senior status a few years ago and last season were crowned Bateman Cup (All-Ireland) and Munster Senior Cup champions. They again reached the Munster Cup final this season.
In the heartland of Tipperary hurling, Cashel lead the way in AIL Division 2B. They have won each of their six matches — including the 32-0 away defeat of Navan at the weekend — scoring 163 points with only 30 against. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given they won the Munster Junior Cup, Junior League, Challenge Cup and Gleeson League last year. Here, too, the work done at underage level continues to pay a rich dividend as the youngsters revel in the achievements of locals like Denis Leamy, the Fogarty brothers and other Tipperary stars such as Alan Quinlan, Donnacha Ryan and Trevor Hogan.
Quite obviously, country clubs like Bruff, Cashel, Ballynahinch (top of Division 1B), Nenagh Ormond and even Connemara, whose fortunes have improved appreciably this year, have different ways of ensuring their futures from their city rivals. Despite their current good run, even these teams can’t be at all sure of what lies in wait.
It is a situation many believe the IRFU have allowed and even caused to occur in pursuit of an agenda of achieving international success through the provinces alone. It’s also a course of action which, at the very least, seems fraught with danger for the future of the game as we have known it for a very long time.
* PETER STRINGER only got half a game for the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday and it was hardly the most auspicious of occasions for him or his team-mates after they were routed by Australia. For all that, though, it was good to see Stringer back performing on the kind of stage he has adorned for so long. And in spite of having been pushed into the background by both Ireland and Munster, it would be great to see such a brilliant and great hearted performer back where his skills and courage entitle him to be sooner rather than later.