Newly appointed TID officer Darryl Callaghan and Academy Staff, Jonny Bell, Niall Malone, Chris Shields and Matty Maguire were on a fact finding mission to see how the extensive new numbers to the game in Donegal were getting involved in the Ulster Player Pathway.
The day started with a visit to Letterkenny RFC to watch an U18 and U16 boys game between Donegal Schools Cup winners St Columba’s College and Carndonagh CS. These are two of the 20 secondary schools involved in the game in Donegal during the last 7 years which has helped increase the participation in High Schools Rugby in Ulster.
The Donegal Schools committee has held the highest attended Ulster Branch Qualifiers at U14 and U16 for the last two seasons and also boasts the only Girls U15 and U18 15-a-side contact competitions in Ulster and Ireland.
Following the first game staff were then taken on an hour long scenic drive to the Gaeltacht area of West Donegal to watch the first school rugby match to be played at Pobailscoil Gaoth Dobhair who were entertaining local rivals Rosses CS at U14 Boys and U15 girls levels. Both age groups were involved in only their second rugby outing yet displayed an entertaining brand of open rugby and physicality that impressed the visiting rugby staff, who commented that it was hugely refreshing to see so much interest and enthusiasm for the game. This was all of the staffs first visit to the rural heart of Donegal which is a 3hr drive from the HQ in Belfast.
Late afternoon involved a trip back to Letterkenny for a review meeting with the Donegal Project where there was the opportunity to discuss the challenges and potential opportunities for players to further enhance their development within the current and future player development structures.
The day was completed with a pitch based game awareness, skill and strength/conditioning session with a select group of players from Donegal who are involved in current pathways.
Darryl and the Academy staff found the visit to be very worthwhile and were enthused by the level of interest and potential within Donegal and the West of the province in general. The visit is part of an overall and continual review that Darryl and staff are conducting as part of his development of a talent strategy for Ulster Rugby.
From the period of 2003-10 Donegal has provided 10 players at Age Grade representative level and 4 women to the Provincial squad. A number of Players from Donegal have also gone onto to representative honours in other Irish Provinces and in Wales and England.
With the continued development of Rugby it will surely be a matter of time before a Donegal based player, will emerge from the changing rooms at Ravenhill on a Friday night to take the field in the Ulster Jersey.