The re-fixed Connacht Junior League tie between Galwegians and OLBC kicked off at 3pm on Sunday in a direct clash with Ireland v England and the farcical scenario has left many in the west perplexed.
The game was played, the league is on schedule to finish on time and all is well in the world some might say.
Yet one of Connacht’s leading referees, Roy Gibson, withdrew his services from the referees association in complete frustration immediately after refereeing the game at the allotted time and many are asking how did this come to pass?
The Connacht Branch Competitions committee fixed the game for a default Sunday at 3pm and left it to the clubs to sort out and alternate as they often do. All Junior plate games were fixed for 2:30pm on the Sunday.
This time however, the clubs couldn’t agree, it was always going to happen at some point and thus a stand-off ensued with Branch officials insisting the game went ahead, both clubs refusing the budge and a referee assigned to the game.
Forty players and officials were involved, all missed the entire game in the Aviva, the biggest on the season’s calendar.
The Fall out
We always like to point out that the Connacht Branch is a group of amateur delegates elected by the clubs and entrusted with running the leagues on the club’s behalf.
In this case the Branch will blame both clubs for not having the common sense to compromise and sort this problem amongst themselves. Both clubs will no doubt partly blame each other but mainly throw it back on the doorstep of the delegates elected to the Connacht Branch to run the game.
Would it have eased the frustration a little if those who had played even the most minute role in the circumstances that led to a 3pm kick off (From clubs involved and the Branch) had been standing on the sideline? It surely would have.
Did it help that some of those were sitting in the stands of the Aviva instead?
Here’s the frustrating thing, after ten years in this job you can get all philosophical about scenarios like this. Each individual working on the Connacht Branch competitions committee or in the clubs at administration level is a sincere rugby enthusiast. I know them all
We can demonise those who disagree with us all we like but if you want to get satisfaction out of this particular dispute with a face to face argument with someone, you probably won’t find it. Each protagonist in the story will have some compelling elements in their arguments.
As an example you won’t find a person at Branch level saying the following…
“I don’t care about the two sets of players, I’m not worried that it ended up kicking off at 3pm I’m not bothered that one of our leading referees has quit and I’m delighted the game was played.”
If there was someone so inclined, at least we could call them out as a muppet and say, that person right there is the problem, be rid of him (or her) and all will be well.
This isn’t about individuals or even a group.
This is about trying to find out why we have a top referee withdrawing his services from the province and a whole set of players and officials from clubs and Branch are feeling extremely angry this week at what the all perceive to be a farcical situation.
It seems to all come down to a prevailing philosophy that is about grassroots rugby being run like a professional sport with no allowance for the fact that ultimately, beyond all the training, goals and dreams, playing rugby is an enjoyable and rewarding escape from the day to day world.
Getting the season finished by a set date is important but it is not more important than the ultimate goal of getting as many adults out on one of the 23 province wide pitches and involved in something that fits into the bigger picture.
It says a lot too that 40 people could be found in Galway on Sunday to get this game played, ten years ago, at least 30 of the 40 would have been in Lansdowne Road.
The disconnect between the professional game and the amateur game appears to be growing wider and scenarios like Sunday only add to that impression.
One other point, on Sunday in Castlebar the Connacht under 14 league final between Creggs and Corinthians kicked off at 2pm. Madness.
A perfectly administered season by any Branch (elected into office by all clubs) would find a balance between the following two extremes.
1. A laissez faire attitude where clubs are allowed to call off games on a whim and seasons are extended into mid and late spring and beyond.
2. A rigid non negotiable calendar that must finish as early as possible where the quicker we get competitions finished the better.
At the moment, one thing is clear, within Connacht at all grades in grassroots rugby the balance is all wrong and the rigid system is dominating.