Is rugby making progress?

Last Sunday I was privileged to attend the Ireland New Zealand (All Blacks) rugby international at the Aviva Stadium. Fantastic match, wonderful atmosphere, great standard and Ireland were pipped at the last minute by the World Champions.  One of the best sporting events I have attended – without question. And the occasion showed the Aviva off to its best – and no one could question the ‘atmosphere’ at the stadium – it was ‘electric’.

And there have been several fantastic days with Leinster, Munster and Ulster over the last number of years.

But then this morning I read about Blackrock Rugby Club and its problems.  And these are compared and contrasted with the growth and success of Cuala GAA (and reference to my own Club Kilmacud Crokes).

I think back to my playing rugby in Belvedere College, Trinity College and Old Belvedere.  I played schools rugby and, afterwards, junior rugby with TCD and OBRFC.  Great years – and many matches against Blackrock (not against the stars – Slattery, Duggan, etc., but against fellow junior rugby players, followed by lots of craic afterwards in Stradbrook, the Pav or Anglesea Road). I have fantastic memories of junior club rugby and the friendships formed over many years.  And when I played the guys who played on the first XV (or even at representative level) were just better than me.  But generally we felt part of the same organisation, sport, club.

Now my kids play football, camogie and hurling with Kilmacud Crokes – another set of friendships for them and for me.  Lots of the same type of endeavour – coaching, fundraising, àdmin, etc. I thought rugby was thriving also – with huge numbers playing mini rugby.  But I wonder.

Cuala and Crokes are examples of two clubs bulging at the seams – with massive intake of young boys and girls each year.  They are both looking for new and upgraded facilities.  There is huge demand for mid week, flood-lit training facilities – in order to enable teams to train through late autumn, winter and early spring.  There are only so many slots available between, say, 6.30 and 9.30 – Monday to Friday.  And during the winter all-weather or weather-proof pitches are critical to managing the logistics associated with bad weather.

And the current levels of growth are spurred on by Dublin’s current levels of achievement in Men’s senior football and hurling.  Significant growth in numbers of girls playing football and camogie is also driving demand for facilities – Ladies Football being one of the great success stories of the last 10/15 years.

Rugby has all the required success stories – Ulster, Munster and Leinster.  It has the stars – Brian O’Driscoll being the outstanding one.  It has the tradition of Schools Cup rugby.  Mini rugby and tag rugby have been great successes.  So what’s the problem – or is there one?

Om first examination the Dublin football team removes Club players from the fold in much the same way that Leinster removes players from the Club scene.  In GAA circles postponement of Club Championship matches until the county players return is a constant source of debate/ argument. But there is a difference – the GAA players return, they do not have employment contracts with Dublin and at all times remain part of the club.  Presumably there must be mixed emotions in a rugby club as they lose someone to the professional game – to return when?  Nowadays much of the top talent skips the club scene – joining elite squads from schools rugby or via third level scholarships.

I have no issue with professional sport.  In rugby this is what is producing the excitement (and the standard) of the Heineken Cup etc.  But how to maintain and sustain club rugby? This does not seem to have been resolved.  When Cuala and Kilmacud look to develop new facilities – they will first look to their members and their communities to assist with fundraising – but I have no doubt that the GAA itself will support these initiatives – the GAA recognises that development in the community, at club level, player development (at all levels) is the future of the organisation.  I would expect the IRFU to be in the same position – but I wonder whether it is.  It’s not a question about the merits of paying players. Presumably professional rugby should be capable of generating much greater TV revenues – given international coverage.  But it may be a question of looking to divert greater percentages of the cake to supporting and sustaining the amateur organisation that is club rugby.

If professional rugby is to be fed by the schools then does it need club rugby?  I think this is the nub of the question.  In spite of all the words used the reality is that club rugby is effectively in competition with professional rugby.  The Clubs play a role at mini rugby level and in offering playing opportunities to players not attending rugby playing schools.  But ultimately the professional sides are happy to talent spot and recruit at schools level (or via sponsored contacts at University level).

I have great memories of playing adult sport – rugby, cricket, hockey, golf (ongoing), indoor soccer. Sport is great for kids – for any number of reasons.  But I would be very keen to see more adults continue to play after school.  If rugby or GAA finds itself struggling on this front then this needs to be addressed – we need more people playing (whatever sport they choose) for longer.

Right now I wonder whether rugby is getting it right – in terms of the balance between Schools, Club and professional sides.  As a game it offers so much – it still accommodates people of different physical attributes more effectively than many other sports.

Perhaps ultimately amateur rugby will have to establish itself as a separate organisation – with its own objectives.  We have professional and amateur golf – and it seems to work.  Rugby is a great game – perhaps amateur rugby needs to find itself and reestablish its attractiveness and its own energy.  There may be new opportunities going forward for greater cooperation between clubs and schools – on the basis that schools may only have a limited appetite for sending their pupils into professional sport.

I am delighted to see Cuala, our local GAA rivals, expanding and developing their facilities.  I would also like to see Blackrock expanding and thriving (although obviously less so than Old Belvedere, given my own allegiances!).  And more facilities for all other sports – basketball, soccess, hockey, whatever.  For amateur rugby, I hope it finds a way forward quickly.  It may have to do this with less support than anticipated from the professional game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is my university? Where does it need to be?

Universities must avail of collaborative technologies to provide real global learning experiences for undergraduates

:Cricket ground at Trinity College Dublin
Image via Wikipedia

I was lucky enough to spend four great years in Trinity College Dublin – way back when (1980-1984) – studying for an engineering degree.  A combination of study, growing up, socialising, forming many friendships which survive to now, playing lots of sport.

We did not have lap tops, we did not have mobile phones, we did not have social networks.

In truth much of what we were taught as undergraduates was as well, if not better covered, in various text books.  There were limited opportunities for practicals, tutorials, projects, opportunities to interact with lecturers and/or Phd dtudents.  These opportunities were actually the potential added value over and above the text books.

As I work and live in a web 2.0 and, increasingly, a web 3.0 world I wonder how my children will participate in 3rd level education – should they choose to do so.

The real opportunity I see for current and future undergraduates is collaboration.   It seems to me that undergraduates attending TCD should be involved in online collaboration with undergraduates and people in industry – based across the world.  The technology allows for this.  The challenge is for the universities to become more open and collaborative.

An interesting piece this week by Kevin Maney in Business Week: Next, An internet revolution in higher education. Kevin, with a slightly different perspective, seems to point to a lot of the same ideas and challenges for third level insitutions.

I think the opportunities in education and ‘global development’ for young people now are greater than ever.  I hope that universities can continue to provide a great experience to be shared by people (predominantly young – but with much more integration with ‘mature’ students) – while exploiting the news technologies to broaden the horizons for all.

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Moving on from traditional thinking

I guess it’s challenging for all of us who have worked for the last 25 years.  In my final year in Trinity College Dublin I was writing Assembler for the Motorola 68000 chip.  The Mac was about to burst on the scene.  Since then I have worked in a Professional Service Firm, my own IT consulting business and with a number of start up businesses.

Many of us have come to think of the business entity as the key business unit – be it a company, a group of companies, a sole trader, a partnership.  And businesses do business with other businesses – ordering, buying, selling, etc.  And each business operates to a set of standards – standards to meet their own expectations and those of their customers.  Many of the standards are driven, underpinned or enforced by external agencies e.g. State, Professional bodies, Insurerers, regulators.

The web has had all sorts of impacts on business – the emergence of online B2B abd B2C, major reengineering of processes and business themselves, globalisation on a par not expected.

And now the web is throwing new opportunities and challenges at all of us.  In fact one can only wonder if we had had this web 10 years ago what types of businesses would have been built over the last 10 years?  Which businesses would never have existed?

Even back in 1984 in TCD we were collaborating – as we worked in a group of three students to design our basic computer.  We also collaborated on the cricket field as we set traps for opposition batsmen.  And we collaborated in preparing for exams – through sharing of lecture notes, etc.

But what we are witnessing now is a series of developments – Social networking, Semantic web, the cloud – which when combined mean that those who do not collaborate risk being eliminated.  We have often discussed the importance of knowledge management within the organisation – even between partner organisations.  However the tools beginning to emerge now promise to facilitate collaboration and knowledge management on a scale previously unimagined – right across the globe, the web and time.  ultimately traditional business practices and structures must be transformed to enable society to benefit from what’s beginning to happen.