Covid re-established the connections between the clubs and their communities - Sense of optimism ahead of new AIL season 

With Clontarf’s Division 1A final victory over Terenure in a thrilling encounter at Aviva Stadium last May still fresh in the memory, there is plenty of optimism up and down the divisions as the men’s leagues get under way, three weeks after the women’s AIL got the ball rolling.
Covid re-established the connections between the clubs and their communities - Sense of optimism ahead of new AIL season 

Energia All-Ireland League Division 1A Final, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 1/5/2022

From Corinthian Park to Estuary Road and from Cork to Bangor, club groundsmen will be opening their gates tomorrow morning in eager anticipation of a new season as the first round of the 2022-23 Energia Men’s All Ireland League kicks off this afternoon.

With Clontarf’s Division 1A final victory over Terenure in a thrilling encounter at Aviva Stadium last May still fresh in the memory, there is plenty of optimism up and down the divisions as the men’s leagues get under way, three weeks after the women’s AIL got the ball rolling.

For The Club Scene podcast’s Daragh Frawley and co-presenters Ger Burke and Maurice Hartery there is also plenty of tension to go with that optimism for an AIL that feels is once again on the rise. The podcast, with a weekly audience of 2,500 to 3,000 listeners, has already got its fifth season underway, its third with Energia as programme sponsors, Yesterday saw their season-opening edition drop and tomorrow’s opening round will see the trio of former AIL players from Limerick helm a livestream with updates and reports from all 30 grounds.

Whatever about the livestream, Frawley is cautiously upbeat about the current state of the AIL as it turns into a new campaign.

“Optimism is the word I’d use,” the former Richmond, St Mary’s College and UL Bohs player said. “Where should it be is the question. I mean, we’re not going to go back to the glory days of the Nineties, we know that.

“At the same token I’d say Covid was, and you can’t say it was a good thing because of the magnitude of what happened, but it did re-establish the connections between the clubs and their communities.

“It kind of put the league’s 60 teams, men’s and women’s, back in the limelight. When the opportunity after lockdown came to get outside and meet people again, it was the rugby club that people went to. They went to the Energia Community Series and then the AIL games.

“So there’s definitely been a restart, a kickstart, during Covid and getting back to where it should be? We will see very, very shortly in October, November, December, if the gate receipts and the viewing numbers and the social interactions are the same as they were last year.

“Of course, there’ll be the URC and the November internationals and all the other sports and the cost of living crisis but there’s definitely cause for optimism as we start a new season.” 

Tomorrow’s livestream will not be the first undertaken by the trio. Between 6,500 and 7,000 supporters heard the debut edition across the final round of last season’s regular fixtures when Frawley reported there were several emotional outbursts from around the grounds as contributors succumbed to the anxieties and joys that season-ending fixtures bring.

In some ways it was a vindication of the decision taken by Frawley and Hartery to launch The Club Scene pod.

“I’ll give you the PG version,” Frawley promises. “About five and a half years ago myself and Maurice Hartery were in the Milk Market in Limerick, so there’s no drink involved in this story at all. I was still playing and Maurice was managing with Thomond and we were having lots of conversations. We saw a lot of active rugby players in around the area at the time as we were in the Milk Market and we’d say, ‘how’s he going to play this weekend’ and we’d be continually having those types of conversations, in person, on the phone.

“So we just kind of said, do we want to bring this to a media format and will we do a podcast? We thought this could go belly up but when we looked at it it was viable to run it, it wasn’t going to cost much and we just needed to find the correct additions to it. So the last person we rang was Ger Burke!

“Actually, Ger is phenomenal, for his appetite and passion for the game and his knowledge of it and he’s well received. He’s a straight talker. Himself and Maurice, they’re two absolutely stand-up lads.

“So the three of us sat down and put together what we wanted to do. We were very cognisant of the fact our opinions might not be well received, so we were quite nervous sitting in a studio in Raheen on a Wednesday night in September 2018. The reception we got for the first one, even talking about it now sends shivers down my spine. We said we’re putting our names to this thing and if it doesn’t go well are we going to go away with our tails between our legs but we quickly found out that people wanted more and more.

“There was a honeymoon period where we were talking about how great the league was and what teams were doing well but we’ve got 60 teams to cover and we went towards real, rolling current events, about what the players were like, what were their day jobs; we brought the women’s game into it and here we are five years later.” 

*The Energia AIL Match Day Live stream can be accessed via the IrishRugby.ie home page or on Twitter at @irishrugby.

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