Connacht Rugby’s first serving CEO Gerry Kelly, has announced he will retire at the end of the season.
Kelly, a former Garbally College teacher, served as a volunteer on many Connacht committees before stepping into the role in 1999 and ushering in the professional era. He has been at the helm ever since but decided to retire early to enable a new CEO take over at the beginning of next season.
Kelly has presided over some particularly difficult times for Connacht Rugby, most notably the IRFU’s threat to axe the province’s professional team. He acknowledged that a considerable amount of his time had been spent "wondering if we are going to be around the following season".
"That has been safely put to bed and the great thing is now there is a definitive and clear future for Connacht Rugby," he said.
"The advent of the professional games board this season has brought a new energy and skill set to that and the rewards can be seen when you walk into the Sportsground and in the performances.
"That has been a long time building, and the greatest thing of all is that the IRFU sees a future for Connacht Rugby. Now is the time for Connacht Rugby to push on."
When Kelly first took over as CEO, there were 16 clubs playing rugby in the province. Today there are 28, while he said schools’ rugby had blossomed from the situation where four schools had dominated. Rice College of Westport had become the first Mayo school to win a schools’ cup last year which was terrific for the game in Connacht.
"There has been a massive change transferring from a voluntary set-up to a professionally run organisation.
"From a handful of paid staff we now have some 80 people employed and one of the successes in Connacht is that we have produced coaches like Eric Elwood, Dan McFarland and Nigel Carolan who are fully qualified level three coaches who understand what the game is all about here in Connacht."