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Podcast: Professional Game Board Chairman John Kelly

16th February 2016 By Munster Rugby

Podcast: Professional Game Board Chairman John Kelly

Amassing 155 caps in the famous red jersey, John Kelly now serves as Chairman of the province’s Professional Game Board which oversees all aspects of professional rugby in Munster, including the Greencore Munster Academy. John explains the process of retaining and recruiting players as well as the overall succession plans at provincial and national level.

Amassing 155 caps in the famous red jersey, John Kelly now serves as Chairman of the province’s Professional Game Board which oversees all aspects of professional rugby in Munster, including the Greencore Munster Academy. John explains the process of retaining and recruiting players as well as the overall succession plans at provincial and national level.

Scroll down to listen to our conversation with John Kelly in full.

Made up of the Munster Rugby CEO, appointees of the Munster Branch and an IRFU delegate, the Board also has the authority to co-opt three additional members as they see fit while also receiving constant feedback from team and academy management.

Kelly sets out the remit of the Professional Game Board.

“We try to ensure that everything around the professional team is working well and that the systems and personnel are put in place so that the team will deliver on the day.

“We look at coaching structures, players and succession on players, and it’s not so much for the team that are togging out this weekend, but the team that are togging out next season and the season after that. You are always looking ahead and trying to put your best team on the pitch because ultimately a winning team will get support and will drive income.”

Key to Munster’s competitiveness in the coming seasons is the retention of its frontline internationals, with the Professional Game Board in close communication with the IRFU and its Performance Director, David Nucifora, during central-contract negotiations.

“Those are primarily handled by the IRFU but it’s very much in our interest to ensure that they are moving along and we would have had constant contact with David Nuicfora around Conor Murray and Keith Earls in particular this year to ensure that those players are retained.

“For me that was a real success of the year, that we managed to retain all of our Irish marquee players.

“You might have a player who is coming out of contract in June 2016 so you would start speaking to the IRFU and David Nuicfora in particular in August 2015. David has been very good in coming down and meeting with us, seeing what it is that we want and why, and he starts the process of speaking with the players very early.”

As well as retaining their centrally contracted internationals, Munster Rugby, primarily through CEO Garrett Fitzgerald, were also successful in retaining the likes of Simon Zebo, CJ Stander and Tommy O’Donnell on provincial contracts.

“Simon for example is a very attractive player in the market and obviously had offers to go elsewhere. I think it’s very important to have a good rapport and I know Garrett would have a very good relationship with a lot of the players and would speak to them on a regular basis in trying to reach a deal.

“I think with contract negotiations, if one side is completely happy, then the negotiation hasn’t worked properly. You are always trying to meet in the middle somewhere.”

In bolstering the squad with overseas signings, the Professional Game Board must be mindful of, not only Munster Rugby’s Succession Plan, but that of the IRFU also, with a number of factors and restrictions to be considered when recruiting non-Irish-qualified marquee players.

“With the Succession Plan you have to be looking right down through your academy and sub-academy to see who is coming though and identify areas where you potentially need to contract in the future.

“There’s a perception out there that we can just go and sign a player, no matter where he’s from or the position he plays. That is not the case.

“You have restrictions on your N.I.Qs – Non-Irish-Qualified players. We can sign four N.I.Qs plus one, with the plus one being a project player – the likes of CJ Stander who qualified as an Irish player after three years.

“The IRFU have an input in the project player, but they also have an input in the other four N.I.Qs. For example, if you look across the provinces, you have Ruan Pienaar in Ulster, that means we and the other provinces cannot sign a non-Irish-qualified 9. There is a restriction on you right away and we know we have to go after Irish players for the 9 spot, or a project player who could become an Irish player.”

The aforementioned Earls, Murray, Zebo and O’Donnell are all products of the Greencore Munster Rugby Academy which, since its inception in 2004, has produced a steady stream of talent for the senior ranks.

“It’s something that has been there for a long time and has been producing players of quality for Munster to then go on to international level.

“Tommy O’Donnell was on the scene for my last couple of years as a player and he has progressed fantastically since then. He is now a regular within the Irish squad and a key player for Munster.

“That’s what you want your academy to do – to bring players in and accelerate their development so that they can get on the pitch for Munster.

“On Sunday we saw Darren Sweetnam who I thought had a fantastic game individually. He needed time in the academy to accelerate his development and I think he can go on to become a key player for Munster.”

LISTEN to our conversation with John Kelly in full here.

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