With the 2009-10 season fast approaching, Ulster Rugby’s Chief Executive, Mike Reid, is confident that the club versus professional provincial argument is a thing of the past.
Ulster’s biggest and most successful clubs, Ballymena and Dungannon, have long felt that they have had to pick up the tab for the professional game, citing the fact that they have lost players to Ulster Rugby, only to find that they were not always used. On occasions those called up have spent time on the bench, much to their personal frustration and that of their clubs.
Writing in the most recent edition of his club’s newsletter, Ballymena President Dr Syd Millar raised the issue afresh by saying that the AIB League was suffering as a result of demands further up the ladder. Speaking of what he sees as the all-Ireland League’s downgrade he warned: “If the current brand continues to be diminished, sponsors, supporters and volunteers will walk away.
“Young players learn by playing with and against experienced players, not sitting on benches.”
Ulster Rugby’s Chief Executive was rather more optimistic, however, citing a narrowing of the gulf.
Admitting that he is sympathetic to the clubs’ views, he said that most of the heat which once existed has gone out out of the debate and the respective parties now have a much greater understanding and appreciation of one another’s positions.
Confirming that Ulster Rugby figureheads like himself, Operations Director David Humphreys, Head Coach Brian McLaughlin and his assistants Neil Doak and Jeremy Davidson plan to spend more time visiting clubs in the coming season, he said: “There was a time when we met the clubs that it was hot and heavy. Sometimes there was a fair bit of table-banging and I fully understand why that was, but I think that’s in the past.”
He did, however, explain: “At the end of the day, Declan Kidney can tell us that certain players have to be rested and when he does we are required to do what he asks.
“That’s when we may have to go to the clubs.”
Significantly he added that the likelihood of contracted players ever turning out at club level grows less each season.