Rugby now a measure of emigration

The professional rugby game is thriving in Ireland right now with clubs such as Leinster, Ulster and Munster standing among the most dominant in Europe. But at club level, long a bastion of the amateur game, there is trouble.

The Irish Rugby Football Union has expressed its concern over a combined €24.6 million bank debt spread across 102 clubs. The clubs are paying €800,000 annually in interest alone.

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There are 13 clubs, 11 of which are in the All-Ireland League, that have bank loans of greater than €400,000 each, the Irish Independent reported.

The stark findings are part of the IRFU's Club Engagement Program which was conducted in partnership with the four prvoincial branches, with 219 of the union's 232 clubs over 42 meetings in 21 venues across the country.

Blackrock College is the highest profile club to admit it is struggling financially, as clubs across the country struggle to deal with lost revenues and dwindling membership. The south Dubliners appealed for help from past pupils of the school last month after losing more than €100,000 last season, the report stated.

"Blackrock are not the only club finding the current economic conditions difficult. Club sponsorship has been reduced by 40 to 50 percent across the board, while bar revenues are down by 30 to 40 percent. Clubs can no longer rely on the huge demand for international tickets that was so key to their bottom line as there are less inactive members with disposable income to take the tickets off their hands," the report stated.

and the return of emigration, long a measuring stick for the health of GAA clubs, is now casting its shadow over the oval ball game.

"There are 48 less teams playing rugby this season as a result of emigration, as one Connacht club summed up the problem, saying: 'We have a great team in Sydney who are all paying their subs,'" the report added.

and it described the situation as being "a far cry from the glory days of the All-Ireland League when clubs fielded the sport's biggest names and attracted crowds to match. The growth of the provinces and the success of the Pro12 League and Heineken Cup has increasingly marginalized the club game at senior level, with the clubs no longer having access to professional players.

"While some continued to chase success by paying their best players, the report reveals that the lack of loyalty at the top of the club game has resulted in ordinary members being turned off."