During the rugby season I get so used to having a match writeup to do for a Monday morning, I need something to fill the void over the summer months. And so we have the HoR Off-Season Rambles series, which should take us up to the pre-season.
#3 - ACE OF CLUBS
For the past couple of seasons here on HarpinOnRugby we have run a feature known as "Roots & All".
The idea was to feature a select number of rugby clubs throughout the season to have a sense of what life was like at the grassroots level, to serve as a contrast to what we were used to at the highest, which, of course given this is primarily a Leinster site, has been pretty high over the past few years.
So before I go on I'd like to thank the clubs who took part in the project up to now...namely Ards Ladies RFC, Cannock RUFC (an English club I know but gave as a great insight to the local game over there), Claremorris RFC, Connemara RFC, Guinness RFC, Iveragh Eagles RFC, Naas RFC, Queens RFC, Stillorgan RFC and Unidare RFC.
For the upcoming campaign, rather than focus on individual clubs throughout the season, we're going to throw open our doors to all clubs senior & junior on the island of Ireland.
If you're a PRO, whether it's an appeal for new players, a promo for an upcoming fundraising event, a match report or even just a post introducing yourself & the club, by all means send it on to us any time and we will publish & promote at the earliest available opportunity. Of course this also includes all the clubs listed above, we'd be happy to hear from you all again!
OK that's the advertising bit of this ramble over. Now to try to impress on the rest of you the importance of the club game.
Unfortunately my life's trajectory did not have me destined to play regular sport, and this is one of my biggest regrets. To be perfectly honest when I finished school I was extremely disillusioned with rugby - it was still an amateur sport, considered by the wider population as elitist and there didn't seem to be much room for change on the horizon.
That's not the only reason I gave up though...a couple of years travelling around the USA followed by a combination of two young children, a career in retail management and a persistent knee injury that I just couldn't shake combined to account for over a decade. Then I felt sorry for myself for another decade!
In the meantime, the game went pro and started to organize itself. Now I know in my ramble last week I suggested that this organization wasn't quite good enough but overall, rugby union was coming on in leaps and bounds on these shores to reach a stage whereby it is the only team sport on the island to offer a world-class international product to supporters on a regular basis.
And luckily for me, I have been in a position to be able to at least satisfy one of my other passions by writing about it.
Obviously the Grand Slam and multiple Heineken Cup successes since the mid-noughties have created a much wider fan base, and with wages to be paid this has been most welcome. But is it all positive?
In any sport there will always be a range of interest among fans, from the hard-core supporters who tog out three times a week and travel to every top level away match be it provincial or test, to those who only seem to show up when there's a trophy up for grabs. Naturally the former can become frustrated by the latter, especially when they hear them chatting among themselves at matches and clearly show they haven't a clue what's going on.
It is here where our challenge lies. The way I see it, we need to ENcourage those "fair-weather" fans, not discourage them.
Remember, even if their ignorance of the most fundamental laws of the game may infuriate us, and even if they're munching a prawn sandwich and didn't pay for their ticket, the fact remains they are at the match and this is an opportunity for us to show them what else the game has to offer.
But hang on...what else DOES the game have to offer? This is where the clubs come in.
I won't say getting bums on seats at provincial games is easy, but when compared to clubs in the other Pro12 nations it most definitely is. What we must do is make sure that everyone who walks out of the RDS, Thomond Park, Ravenhill and the Sportsground not only knows where their local club is, but also what they can do to get involved.
That level of involvement doesn't just mean playing and coaching. Nor does it involve simply handing over money. Of course all of that is important, but in the same way the sport has a place for all shapes and sizes, the clubs need help in all kinds of areas from washing the kit to giving lifts to matches, the list goes on and on.
Hopefully I'm not giving the impression that the IRFU and the provinces don't do anything to promote this already, of course they do. At Leinster for example there is the ever-popular "half-time minis", when underage teams from four clubs get to play on the hallowed turf during match intervals. Plus last year they offered a free ticket to an AIL game of your choice in the province with your season ticket, another great initiative.
And I also don't want to suggest that with our "Roots & All" promotion we are the only online source for grassroots club rugby on these shores. That job is primarily done by the excellent KnockOn.ie who offer regular extensive coverage of the club game from the AIL Division 1A right down to the lowest grade.
I would hope that with a bit of work we could bring our coverage to the next level. For example, I'd love to see the top tiers of the Ulster Bank League get a journalistic treatment similar to that at the pro level, with a team announcement during the week, pre- & post- game interviews with coaches and players, even a streaming audio broadcast keeping up to date with scores from around the country for the 2:30pm Saturday kickoffs. The blogosphere would be an ideal outlet for this in my view once the league got behind it.
But these are just a few ideas. We need to put our heads together and come up with many more.
Ask yourself - "How much did I do for club rugby last season?" Then be sure and do more next season. If we all do this, the game as a whole on this island can only benefit as a result.
Next time, I will have a ramble on the task facing Matt O'Connor for the 2013/14 season. JLP
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES
#1 - THE LIONS BRAND
#2 - RE-FORMATTING RUGBY