Rugby playing numbers are falling in rural areas due to emigration, according to an IRFU report released yesterday.
The survey showed that rural clubs are struggling due to players moving out of the country or to urban areas in search of work. It has been particularly harsh in the west of Ireland, where Connemara All Blacks secretary Irene King declared the difficulties as “immense”.
“Not only are people emigrating,” she said, “but they’re also heading off to different places to pursue third level education; that makes it very difficult in terms of being able to field teams week in and week out, and we do have 13 rugby teams in this club.”
The ability to field teams sometimes comes down to the availability of players coming back to the area for the weekend, but the Connemara All Blacks continue to be one of the success stories of rural Irish rugby. “It’s tough going,” she said, “but we’re doing our best throughout the year.”
However the IRFU report said rugby makes a significant contribution to Irish society, with 59% of the respondents to a survey agreeing that success for Irish rugby improved the image of Ireland internationally.
The research also pointed to the ethos and traditions of rugby, such as fair play, respect and teamwork as the main reasons why parents wanted their children to take up rugby.
But Irish clubs aren’t quite as happy as the IRFU report suggested even if the governing body pointed out they plough in over €9m (17% of all expenditure) to grassroots rugby, whilst explaining that the Irish national team provides 81% of all revenue.
Bruff president Gerard Hehir said money was a problem for everyone in these difficult times. “I suppose it’s fair to say revenue from club bars have all but dried up, given the drink-driving laws, particularly for country based clubs like ourselves; we’re organising underage discos from next week to generate additional income, although we’re not that badly hit because we don’t pay our players.”
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