TWO days out from the kick off of the new season, the Energia All Ireland League Women’s Division has been hit by a hammer blow with Malone withdrawing.
he Belfast club had been scheduled to kick off their campaign against champions Railway Union on Saturday, but they will now have a bye as will all of Malone’s opponents this season.
The eleventh-hour decision, announced by the IRFU this afternoon, shines a light on the shaky foundations beneath the Irish women’s national side who failed to qualify for the World Cup which will take place next month.
Malone’s withdrawal means that Cooke RFC are the only Ulster club in the top division, with Connacht represented by Galwegians and UL Bohemians and Ballincollig RFC the two Munster teams. Leinster clubs Railway, Old Belvedere, Blackrock College, Suttonians and Wicklow RFC make up the rest of what is now a nine-team division.
There are major concerns within the game that the soon-to-be-announced IRFU contracts will see players being asked to move to Dublin and be based out of the union’s High Performance Centre which would further weaken the other provincial clubs.
Sources within the league have also expressed their concern that the league play-offs will coincide with the Dubai and Cape Town Sevens in December.
The IRFU’s new Women’s Development Manager Amanda Greensmith expressed regret at the decision.
“We engaged with all participating AIL Women’s Division clubs throughout the 2021/22 season and we could see real potential in Malone’s set up for women and girls, particularly in their age-grade structures,” she said.
“There are almost 100 females registered in the club and we saw a number of players come through to feature for Ulster in this season’s U18 Girls Interprovincial Series.
“The announcement is disappointing to all stakeholders, but we accept the eleventh-hour nature of the decision was due to efforts being made to take their place in the AIL as expected.
” They have our full support as they continue to develop their rugby programmes for women and girls in Belfast.”
Club vice chair Michael Kearney said they didn’t take the decision lightly.
“This decision was made with the utmost reluctance. We had made a particular effort to bolster the set up for our women and girls over the summer with a new committee, new coaches and improved sponsorship arrangements in place,” he said.
“We are confident that the club will see the results of this work over time. The structures are in place and there is a strong commitment from our executive to see us return to All-Ireland Competition as soon as we can. We’ll keep pressing ahead.”
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