The end of the rugby season marked the retirement of one who has made an extraordinary contribution to Munster Rugby over the last three decades, significantly in revolutionising the administrative structures within the Munster Branch and bringing it in step with the demands of the modern information age. Diarmuid B. Kelly, who has held the role of Honorary Secretary of the IRFU Munster Branch for the last 22 years, stepped down at the end of the season, making way for the well known statistician Frank Byford from Sunday s Well, who becomes only the fourth Honorary Secretary in the last 75 years.
Diarmuid was born and reared in Fermoy. Always sporty, he competed in athletics and played Gaelic Football, but was relatively late coming to rugby joining Mallow RFC in his late teens. Rugby was in his blood however, with his father having played with Rockwell College and Cork Constitution. From Mallow, Diarmuid s rugby career took him to playing Senior rugby with Sunday s Well RFC. He later joined Cork Constitution.
His heart, however, lay in North Cork, and in 1970, he and some like minded individuals founded Fermoy RFC to cater for the town and surrounding areas. The success enjoyed by the club in those early years was a source of great pride. Involvement in the club in its infancy provided invaluable administrative experience, and after holding various positions within the club, he became Cork County Committee Secretary. This led in 1977 to his appointment as Munster Junior Committee Secretary which he held for 6 years. On the retirement of Munster Branch Honorary Secretary Bill O Brien in 1983, it was a natural progression for Diarmuid to step into the role. In the early days, the job was done from home, with help from his wife Margaret, but later as Munster Rugby grew, all administration was moved to offices in Penrose Quay in Cork, with a secondary office in Limerick following soon after. Finally, the Branch moved the nerve centre to Musgrave Park, where it remains today.
Diarmuid certainly wasted no time in bringing new dimensions to the role, setting up a number of initiatives designed to improve and develop communications within and ever expanding organisation in the province. Diarmuid introduced the famous Red Book , an annual publication which gives details of byelaws, fixtures and club contacts, which has become the unofficial bible of Munster Rugby, and now has plans to make this available online, through an intranet communications system which he is developing. Similarly, Diarmuid also introduced the all encompassing Annual Report, recording and detailing all players who play representative rugby for the province and internationally.
Having been closely involved with the founding of Fermoy RFC, the growth and development of clubs was an area of significant importance for him. Rugby in Munster enjoyed an explosion in the late 70 s and 80 s, with a large number of Junior clubs founded during the period, and Diarmuid was heavily involved in helping these clubs to develop and thrive. One of the most contentious issues in rugby is the allocation of tickets for international matches, and Diarmuid was part of an effective initiative dedicated to achieving a structured and transparent distribution scheme. This affected not only the distribution between the four provinces, but amongst clubs within Munster as well. This new system has been particularly effective in increasing the ticket allocation on all fronts. Always looking ahead, Diarmuid was a key figure in the introduction of a FAS Rugby Coaching Scheme with a base in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Kerry. Running for the best part of a decade before government cutbacks forced the scheme to shut down, the scheme was hugely successful in bringing the sport to non-rugby playing schools, particularly at primary school level with neighbouring clubs benefiting significantly from this initiative.
Over the best part of thirty years, Diarmuid has seen significant changes within the sport and has a wealth of memories and highlights to recall. Inter parish and inter city rivalry and pride in our clubs has been the catalyst to deliver the best from the competitive nature of our players . On the rugby front, he admits that there are perhaps too many historic victories to mention, but some of the notable victories for the Senior team have given him very happy memories. Beating the All Blacks in 1978 was one such victory, as was beating the then World Champions Australia in Musgrave Park in 1992. Interprovincial victories over Leinster and Ulster were always fantastic occasions, especially those rare victories over Ulster in Ulster. With the advent of professional rugby and the introduction of the Heineken Cup, Diarmuid has seen dramatic changes. In the amateur days there would be three interprovincial games, a warm up match and occasionally a game against a touring team. Nowadays, the Senior team has a demanding full match schedule. Diarmuid has always enjoyed the drama of the Heineken Cup, and particularly remembers the games against Saracens and the dramatic revenge win over Leicester away, the year after the infamous loss in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. One of my greatest sources of pride is seeing people wear the Munster jersey all over the world. It reinforces Munster Rugby s place as a force on the world sporting stage, and I m thrilled to have been part of that success story.
He also has fond memories of the Munster Senior Cup finals, especially the Centenary celebrations of the competition in 1986. It was always a big, colourful event, with marquees and bands and a terrific atmosphere enjoyed by all the family. Although in recent years the competition has lost some of its lustre due to the advent of the Heineken Cup and the professional era, the introduction of a new All Ireland Cup next season will certainly help return the competition to its former glory, where the Munster Senior Cup will be used as a qualifying structure for entry to the All Ireland Cup. Success by Munster Clubs in the All Ireland League and promotion of Munster Clubs into the league has been a source of great pride and a reflection of the strength of Munster Rugby.
Diarmuid also remembers the development of the grounds at Musgrave Park and Thomond Park in the late 1980 s being a major turning point for Munster Rugby, with new stands and terracing added to both venues. Currently there are further plans afoot to redevelop both grounds in order to improve the facilities and to cater for the ever increasing support base.
Notwithstanding the huge commitment needed to fulfil his duties with the Munster Branch, Diarmuid has also had a terrific career with Pfizer, having joined the company on their arrival in Cork some 35 years ago. Married to Margaret, who herself has been a tremendous source of support, the couple have three children, all of whom share in Diarmuid s his enthusiasm for the sport. Eldest Rory played rugby with PBC and UCC, while daughters Orla and Elaine both played hockey and are huge rugby fans.
Given his invaluable and groundbreaking contributions to the sport, it is almost impossible to separate the man from the rugby. While determined to take a break of sorts and practice his newly acquired interest in golf, it is certain that Diarmuid will never be too far removed from the action. It is expected that his vast experience will be called upon to assist on certain projects in the coming years, while his legacy within the administrative structures of Munster Rugby will no doubt be invaluable as Munster Rugby continues to thrive.