Season over but cost of shutdown mounts for AIL clubs

When the IRFU pulled the shutters down on the AIL season last month it preserved a league pyramid with Cork Constitution at its tip and Midleton, half an hour’s drive and at the same time a world away, marooned at its base.
Season over but cost of shutdown mounts for AIL clubs
Cork Con’s Brian Hayes make a break in an AIL clash with Young Munster last January. Club director of rugby Jerry Holland, below, said: ‘For the players, it’s such a strange way to end a season that was going so well but there’s lots of teams would have experienced that.’

When the IRFU pulled the shutters down on the AIL season last month it preserved a league pyramid with Cork Constitution at its tip and Midleton, half an hour’s drive and at the same time a world away, marooned at its base.

Though separated by 48 rungs on the ladder, their frustrations and concerns now overlap with each other and every other club around the country. This should have been the month when the league tables were decided by events on the pitch. Instead, everyone is grappling with the same withdrawal symptoms and strains as the global battle against coronavirus goes on.

“It is strange,” said Con’s director of rugby Jerry Holland. “For the players, it’s such a strange way to end a season that was going so well but there’s lots of teams would have experienced that. Highfield were going to be promoted (to 1A) as well when everything stopped.

“It’s unfortunate for everyone, the juvenile levels too. You can see it with the pros as well, everyone is trying to keep themselves going at home and there’s an element of cabin fever, but it’s a small problem in terms of everything that’s happening.”

The playing of mere games seems like a distant past-time already, a luxury of unimaginable proportions, but it’s only a month since Buccaneers and Barnhall played what turned out to be the last AIL game of the season at Dubarry Park.

The IRFU’s decision to draw a line through the rest of the campaign generated some headlines two weeks after that 2A clash in Athlone but, while the world has moved on since, the consequences of that extraordinary but essential move are still being suffered.

“The big thing now is the financial impact,” said Holland. “There is no income coming in but there is still upkeep and other expenses to be met. Every club is different. Every club’s income stream is different but they obviously all just stop.

“We were probably doing okay in a financial sense when it kicked in. We have been prudent with what we have done financially but all clubs will be looking to the IRFU and the government to help as this thing goes on.”

The IRFU has made a fund of €500,000 available to clubs and more may come. They have placed a moratorium on all club loan repayments for four months and made available loans in excess of €4 million under its current Financial Assistance Scheme.

The clubs have also been encouraged to make us of any government assistance that may be on the table but replacing the various streams of income that were previously in place will be impossible given most clubs run just to stand still in regular financial times.

Dave Ryan, director of rugby at Midleton for 13 years now, estimates that it costs anything up to €90,000 per season just to keep their senior side on the road. And some roads are particularly costly. Each trip to the north drains €5,000 from the coffers.

“You’ve pitch maintenance, expenses for coaching, buses for all the teams including underage. The bar was going very well and that’s closed now,” Ryan said. “The club lotto was thriving but that’s stopped now because the bars are closed in the town.”

There is no good time to nix an entire season.

Cork Con had won all 14 games in Division 1A, they were due to play Lansdowne in the final of the Bateman Cup while the Cork Charity Cup and Munster Senior Cup were already in the bag. Midleton had won their last two games to give themselves a strong shot at avoiding relegation and all the heartbreak that the loss of their AIL status would bring with it.

“It would be devastation, really,” said Ryan. “You depend on your AIL status for the club name to be out there. If you were to lose that you would lose players to other clubs and there’s plenty of them around: Highfield, Con, Dolphin, Sunday’s Well. We’d find it tough if we went down.”

They were confident it wouldn’t come to that. League leaders Skerries were due in town when news came through from the IRFU less than 48 hours before that the game was off. A pre-match luncheon catering for 90 people at €20 a head had been sold out.

Midleton were already suffering when the current crisis hit after the passing of the hugely popular Cormac Ryan in February but what can any club do at times of tragedy, whether local or global, but keep on carrying on. Midleton and Cork Con are among those trying to do just that.

Club officials in both outposts have held conference calls in recent weeks, sometimes on a daily basis, to try and plan for the next chapter but its a hypothetical exercise at best given the uncertainties that have hold on all aspects of life for now.

All they can do is hold tight and wait for the shutters to open again.

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