On a day when the Magners League was being hailed as a real force in world rugby, Connacht revelled in their own fortune with the continued sponsorship from the Bank of Ireland.
The twin launches, which took place in Limerick and Galway, signalled the start to what is expected to be the most competitive seasons in many years. Changes to the Magners League format, which is introducing a semi-final and final play-off system, have been welcomed as the tournament enters its 12th year.
“Our competition is now the playground of the stars of the game in the Northern Hemisphere - and some of the biggest names in the rugby playing world,” said director of Celtic Rugby, David Jordan, at Thomond Park - home of current champions Munster. “The Magners League is a competition that has grown in stature and standard, is growing in credibility, and which is ready to move to the next level this season.”
This year’s Magners League will boast: Thirty-seven British and Irish Lions and 26 test team Lions; Three Lions test captains, and three Grand Slam captains; One World Cup winner; Four Tri-Nation winners; One 100-test cap player and one on 99 caps.
Although Connacht may not be at the business end of the league season, the renewed sponsorship from the Bank of Ireland is vital in providing Connacht with a professional team to challenge the 10-team Magners League competition.
Bank of Ireland regional manager Donal Flynn said Connacht Rugby was the bank’s biggest single sponsorship in the west of Ireland, and both organisations were facing challenges this year.
“Both of us, to be fair, are operating under limited resources,” he said. “However we are very proud to be associated with Connacht Rugby. When we came on board 13 years ago, it was our first professional rugby sponsorship, and we also still continue to sponsor Ulster and Leinster.”
Connacht branch CEO Gerry Kelly and director of coaching Michael Bradley urged supporters and businesses to get behind Connacht Rugby.
“We bring a lot of business to Galway during the off-peak period and we need to support one another,” said Kelly. “Let’s Do It Galway have been an example to everyone. It’s time to stop complaining - we need to get away from that culture - and do it for ourselves.”
Michael Bradley, now entering his seventh year in charge, said a key element within the squad was the strong bond, but they needed to express it on the pitch for supporters and sponsors. However, he said, it was vital the supporters played their part. Last year Connacht beat both the European and Magners League champions at the Sportsground - a venue, he said, that may not be the easiest place to get to on a Friday night.
“However we do need everyone to play their part.”
Although Connacht had lost 13 players at the end of last season, Connacht had boosted its squad this season with the promotion of home-grown talent.
“It is terrific to see our own young players coming into the squad,” Kelly said. “ This is what we are about, and I am looking forward to more coming through in the future.”