IRFU backs new Connacht board and budget
By Linley Mackenzie
A new board is set to take over the running of Connacht Rugby following a year-long review undertaken by the IRFU and the Connacht Branch.
The administrative change will feature a seven-person board whose members have been vetted and approved by Lansdowne Road.
The results of the combined IRFU/Connacht Rugby review, which was started midway through last season, are to be announced tomorrow (Friday) in Galway. IRFU president Caleb Powell, CEO Philip Browne, Connacht CEO Gerry Kelly, Irish coach Declan Kidney and Connacht's Eric Elwood will all be present.
It is hoped the changes will put paid to continued rumours of Connacht's demise and provide the structures for a stable financial future from which Connacht can develop. The new board will have three years to make improvements before undergoing another review.
The IRFU will continue to fund Connacht and will increase its playing budget, but it will be up to the new board to top up those finances, increase support at the Galway Sportsground, and improve its facilities, including the building of a new stand which has received planning approval, but lacks the necessary funding.
The changes are believed to be welcome news for Connacht officials who initiated the review, asking the IRFU for help in putting in place a sustainable business model. The review was undertaken by Morgan Buckley's Atlantic Sport Management before lengthy negotiations took place to agree on certain recommendations within the report, including nominated members of the board.
However it is believed all members of the board have a strong interest in Connacht Rugby and represent a cross section of society, including business, legal and financial professions. Current Connacht chairman and former branch chairman Steve Cunningham, who has been an integral figure in the consultancy process, is expected to be a member of the board, in addition to a Dublin-based former player, and a Galway city businessman. It is believed a representative of a Connacht sponsor is among the chosen seven, although Aer Arann chief and Connacht sponsor Padraig O'Ceide was not available due to work commitments.
Coach Eric Elwood will welcome the change in the player and management contracts which last year were limited to one year during the review period. That is set to change and will be welcome news for Elwood as he tries to keep his playing squad together. The presence of Irish boss Declan Kidney at the announcement also indicates his support in Connacht continuing to develop players for the national squad.
The new set-up follows the administration of fellow Irish provinces with a professional games board charged with administering all aspects of professional rugby, although in Connacht's case, its board members need IRFU approval. A Connacht management board had been in operation since the start of this year, but that has now been officially dissolved.
Connacht CEO Gerry Kelly says the audit was undertaken to ensure a sustainable future for Connacht Rugby.
"We are looking forward to the positive outcome from this review which has been on-going for the last year."