“Help us pull this red thread tighter” — that was the appeal from host and former captain Doug Howlett at the inaugural Munster Rugby New York dinner Tuesday night, when the province’s 2008 Heineken Cup-winning team were honoured on the 10-year anniversary of their victory over Toulouse.
Over 300 people packed into the upmarket New York Athletic Club where over a dozen members of that triumphant squad were in attendance to raise funds for underage rugby across the province and aid Munster community rugby programmes.
Howlett, head of commercial for Munster Rugby told the Irish Examiner: “The dinner has been in our strategic plan for a while now, to connect with our people abroad, our Munster diaspora. We’ve been to London for four years and it’s proving successful, allowing us to get face time with our supporters. The opportunity to come and do something in New York has always been in the background.
“With the support of some key individuals in America we’ve been able to turn this into a reality and this is the first step, there’s still a small bit of exploration required but the turnout has certainly confirmed we have a strong Munster rugby following in New York.”
The sean-fhocal “Mol an Óige agus tiocfaidh síad, (praise the young and they will flourish) served as the tagline for the event, officially titled, ‘NYC Championing the Youth of Munster’.
“We’re built on home-grown talent, I think we see that with Keith Earls, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, all these types of players that come through into Munster, but also Ireland and then into the Lions and so that’s what’s inspiring our youth at the moment. We just have to work harder in the environment that we operate in and look at new ways of doing business, to throw new eyes on our province because there’s a lot of talent there and it’s resourcing that which is a big part of why we’re here today, to identify and teach the great values of rugby.”
That message was also echoed by Ronan O’Gara: “When Munster are strong it’s a local team with quality imports so they need to get those structures right. It needs money obviously and it needs an awful lot of expertise and you need quality people in there. You can have the best of facilities but you need the right people applying the right philosophies to young players. The most important thing is that it’s about people and if you want to get the best people you’ve got to pay them and to do that you need finance.”
For former Munster and Ireland skipper Mick Galwey, first-hand experience of Kerry GAA’s successful penetration of the US market and said he wasn’t in the least surprised by the sizeable turnout for Munster rugby.
“I can go back as far as 2000 when we played a Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulouse in Bordeaux and we heard about people coming from New York to support us and that made it very special. This is 18 years later and this hasn’t happened overnight, we’ve always known we’ve had the diaspora across the world and in New York and tonight is a combination of that.”
“What people must remember is this is not about the professional game, this is about promoting the game at youths level, at kids level and giving kids the opportunity to play rugby.
“I started playing rugby in Castleisland which wouldn’t be the stronghold but if it wasn’t for certain people in that club I probably would have never played rugby. So this is where we want to promote the game of rugby, and hopefully down the road there will be other young people who will have the opportunity to put their name in the hat and, hopefully, at some stage be given the opportunity to play rugby, and maybe be given the opportunity to play with Munster.”
Howlett added: “The organising committee in New York, led by Pat Reidy and Tony Dunne, have done trojan work and their efforts have been central to the successful planning of this event.”
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on September 27, 2018. To see the original version, click here.