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  • Rugby

Nenagh's First Citizen of Munster Rugby

Sunday, 5th July, 2020 11:17am
Nenagh's First Citizen of Munster Rugby

Sean McCullough

Nenagh's First Citizen of Munster Rugby

Sean McCullough

 

 

Nenagh Ormond RFC’s Seanie McCullough became the first Tipperary man to be President of the Munster Rugby. Sports Editor Shane Brophy met with the new first citizen of the province to get his thoughts on where Munster are at and where he wants them to go over the next twelve months.

 

The election of Seanie McCullough as President of the Munster Branch of the IRFU was historic in more ways than one.

He is the first Nenagh Ormond man and Tipperary man to assume high office in the province in its 123-year history. He is also the first Munster President to be elected virtually as the Annual General Meeting of the Munster Branch was held online last Thursday night. A formal AGM will be hosted by Nenagh Ormond in the near future when public health guidelines allow.

“It’s a great honour for myself, my family, the club, and the town,” Seanie said.

Seanie was elected unopposed having progressed through the process which is in four phases having been Junior Vice President and Junior President over the last two years before becoming Branch President. He will stay on the Board for one year when his term ends in June 2021.

“It’s not before where you got a blazer and went to functions. There is a lot of responsibility now,” he revealed.

“I will sit on a lot of committees and I chair some of them. I sit on the board of Munster Rugby where a lot of the decisions are made, particularly in the last couple of months with the outbreak of the pandemic, a lot of hard decisions have been made and that’s the way it is and that’s why you are there. You are not just a figure head. It’s full on.”

Seanie has been in the Munster Branch for much of the last decade having been twice President of Nenagh Ormond RFC and when he decided to begin the process of one-day becoming Munster Branch President, he didn’t go into it blindly.

“I have been on the Munster Branch for the last eight or nine years. Nenagh Ormond asked me would I go forward. I was working at the time and it was something I thought hard of. When I saw the list of the roles and responsibilities from one of the previous Presidents, it was four pages long.

“I wasn’t sure if I would have the time for it; would I have enough time to do it right. I wasn’t going to do it for the sake of doing it. I developed a back problem in 2016 and I was forced to get out of what I was doing with work and I ended up selling my business (Nenagh Quick-fit) so I then had time on my hands.

“I met with a few previous Presidents to get an idea of the time and commitment that is involved, and I decided to go for it and the club nominated me.

“It is a huge honour for me as being their representative. I went forward then, and it isn’t just going forward, there is a governance nominations committee you have to go to, and they interview you and see if you are suitable for it. Thankfully, I was, that was two years ago when I became Junior Vice President where I travelled with the under 19’s and 18’s here and abroad. Last year as junior president I was with Munster ‘A’ and as President next season I have to go to all the senior games, home and away, and all the internationals. It’s a great opportunity to travel with the team and see all kinds of things.

“I have the time to do it. I have the interest to do it. I have the capability to do it and the ability to make changes. I get on with most people. I work with the new CEO (Ian Flanagan) closely, so it isn’t a matter of just showing up in a blazer. There’s a lot involved. It is time consuming, but I have the time to do it.”

If you has said to Seanie McCullough fifteen years ago that he would be one of the top men in Munster rugby, he would have laughed at you but despite not having played the game at any level, his ability as an administrator was quickly spotted by Nenagh Ormond.

“In 2005 Billy McNamara was Club President and he came to be one day and asked me to sit on the committee. I asked him what was involved in it. He said it was just a meeting for an hour every fortnight during the season. I didn’t realise he was telling me lies!” he joked.

“But anyway, I agreed to go on to the committee and since then I have sat on finance and development committees before becoming President in 2010/11 and then again in 2015/16.

“At this moment in time I am chairperson of the clubs’ development committee where we are hoping to do a big development in Lisatunny.”

He added: “I was always a fan of rugby and always hung around with the rugby guys. I was a mechanic by trade and worked for a number of years in Frosts Garage in Nenagh for twelve years, but I did a few nixers at night-time.

“I always used to go to rugby matches, even during the good times in the AIL when Paul Spain, Noel O’Meara, Denis O’Meara, Barry Everitt where playing for the big Limerick clubs and we all went into see them on a Saturday. You were also getting to see Anthony Foley, Mick Galway, Peter Clohessy and all these fellas.

 

Club game

The place of the All Ireland League within Irish rugby has been an ongoing issue, particularly in giving it more profile by seeing more of the Munster fringe players lining out for their clubs, rather than playing in ‘A’ games for their province. However, McCullough feels the gap between the professional and amateur game may be too great without the ‘A’ team.

“I always thought there wasn’t much a difference between Munster ‘A’ and division 1 of the AIL. As junior president last year I travelled with Munster ‘A’ to every game and when you see the level they are at and the physicality and the training and all that goes with it, it is a different level,” he said.

“At the top of the AIL the likes of Cork Con and Lansdowne are near it but if you were to pick the best 15 players out of the division 1 against Munster ‘A’, they wouldn’t have a chance.

“The old days were great, but will we ever get back to that, no. But you can make them attractive; our Friday night games against Cashel are super nights out. Some people have the idea if we play more regional leagues, we could do more of that but the novelty of that can wear of if you do it too often. Our gate in Nenagh would treble for the Cashel game.”

The club game will have its issued post Covid-19 but McCullough is confident at all of the 217 clubs in the country are in a strong position, with only fifty having applied for the IRFU’s assistance fund.

 

Munster

However, there will be greater pressure on Munster and the professional game as they aim to get back into action next month with the delayed completion of the Guinness PRO14.

With the debt on the Thomond Park development remaining an issue and with income likely to be greatly impacted by Covid-19 and the reduction of stadium capacity for Thomond Park and Irish Independent Park in the short term provides Seanie McCullough and the Munster top-brass with a lot to think about.

“We can’t rely on filling Thomond Park eight times a year isn’t enough to keep Munster rugby going” he said.

“We have to think outside the box and make Thomond Park more productive going forward in the off-season as well as online digital and marketing.

“Our CEO Ian Flanagan, he has only been in situ since October, but he is different class in the way he is thinking, his background and experience, his vision.”

That finance will be critical in maintaining and strengthening the first team squad as well as the coaching staff with Graham Rowntree and Stephen Larkham coming on board along with head coach Johann van Graan, as Munster look to get back along the elite teams in Europe.

However, McCullough is keen to ensure that Munster retains and in some-ways regain its Munsterness which has evaporated since the great days from 2000 to 2010.

“It’s time for this team now, as in on and off the field, to make their own history,” Seanie said.

“I do believe with the team that is in place with Graham Rowntree and Stephen Larkham. To be where we need to go, we need the likes of Van Graan, Rowntree and Larkham.

“In time we’d love to see a Ronan O’Gara come back. It’s something everyone would like to see happen. Denis Leamy is working with Leinster, but his heart is in Munster.

“The focus is the outside coaches is a means to an end to help being on our own guys.

“The two lads that are coming, Damien D’Allande and RG Snyman, they are very much seen as a stop gap as in to get us back to the top while our academy players such as Ben Healy, Craig Casey and Jack O’Sullivan settle in.”

While Munster have been defeated in three of the last four European Cup semi-finals, the competition is struggling to maintain its relevance, particularly for many of the English and French clubs who are showing great indifference to it.

“It should be the pinnacle,” he said of the Heineken Champions Cup.

“It’s special to Munster. I was at a couple of finals. The expectation of trying to win one but when you when you win one, it’s different. That expectation and the hunt isn’t the same.

“They were special days. I still meet people; they don’t know my name and I don’t know their names, but we know each other. We would have met in airports and bars all over Europe.

“Munster rugby is in a good place. I do believe the team that is there are the moment from the top to bottom are exceptional. It is going to be a challenge next year; money is going to be a challenge, but we are all in the same boat.”

 

Improving the Academy

The Munster academy hasn’t produced the quality its counterparts in Leinster have over the last decade. They don’t have the same strength that Leinster have in terms of tapping into the schools’ game, but McCullough feels Munster can find their own way of producing their own players to play at the highest level.

“There are some very good guys in the academy,” he stressed.

“Over the last two years there are more of our own coming, particularly the West Cork mafia, the likes of the Wycherley’s and then Ben here in Nenagh.

“However, there are 17 players in our academy; there is room for 22. That’s good news and bad news. The good news is you could throw five players in there but there is no point if they aren’t ready. The bad news is we don’t have five guys of that quality.

“Leinster’s strength is in the schools. Two years ago, of the fully contracted Leinster guys, eleven came from St Michael’s alone. The vast majority come from the schools.

“Fair play to them, they have done a lot of work. They do the right things and they are the standard bearers but that’s where we have to go.

“Leinster have a lot of advantages with them in terms of population but in fairness to them they do the right things. All we can do is aspire to them, but we can get there.

 

Juvenile and Women’s game

Participation in rugby continues to grow at juvenile level, particularly in the women’s game where Nenagh Ormond have seen a marked growth in young girls taking up the sport and McCullough is hoping to build on that over the next twelve months.

“Women’s participation is up 22% last year,” he revealed.

“Our own girls in Nenagh had no team for several years. My daughter Colleen came back from New Zealand two and half years ago and started up a juvenile team mid-season with fourteen girls, now there are 80 girls there.

“There are five age grades there now for girls. Eileen Gleeson has gotten on the Ireland underage squad and there were three more girls from Nenagh on the Munster underage squad.

“I do believe there are exciting times ahead. Okay, at the moment with Covid, it has slowed us down and there are challenges no different than any sport all over the world.

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