20th March 2009 By Munster Rugby
The women’s rugby world was shocked this week with news of the sudden death of Mark Andrews.
One of the best-known figures in Irish women’s rugby, Mark came to Ireland from his native Australia in the mid-nineties, around the time that women’s rugby and the fledgling IWRFU was beginning to gain a foothold.
Working as a development officer in the South-East region, Mark quickly became immersed in women’s rugby at all levels, refereeing locally, coaching the Waterpark Ladies team, and then moving on to manage and coach the Munster Women’s team.
Together with his fellow antipodean Rohan West, they turned around the fortunes of Munster women’s rugby from the previous strongholds of Connacht and Ulster, leading the province to an unprecedented four provincial titles in a row from 2001 to 2004.
By this time, Mark was also juggling another major commitment, that of Irish Women’s team manager from 2003 to 2007, managing all aspects of the logistics, budget and off-field arrangements for five 6 Nations campaigns as well as the 2004 European championships and 2006 women’s rugby world cup.
Despite his representative and international briefs, Mark never lost sight of grassroots rugby and it is for this he will be best remembered, serving as Irish Women’s Rugby Competitions director since 2002, running all aspects of club and interprovincial competitions, including rules and regulations development, competitions scheduling, player registration and ongoing administration of the results and fixtures.
The role of a competitions director is always a thankless one, but Mark dealt with all disputes in his customary objective manner, seemingly impervious to personalized criticism but using every issue to amend the rules and regulations to prevent future recurrence. Mark’s outstanding characteristic in such cases was his impartiality; he would administer the rules but his knowledge of the difficulties faced by womens’ rugby teams at ground level gave him a strong degree of sympathy, and encouraging rather than disciplining teams was always his focus.
Ever looking to the future, at the time of his death, Mark had been looking forward to next season and working on a number of aspects of the club competitions for next season as competitions administration integrates into the IRFU structures.
Off the field, Mark was recognised as one of the backbones of the Irish Women’s Rugby Committee, not only in the roles above but also as Chairman of the IWRFU and, at various stages, as the Munster provincial representative, international team representative and of course as Competitions director.
The sheer breadth of his work could not be appreciated, mainly because he wore it so lightly and it is only over the months and years ahead we will fully appreciate the workload he carried.
A private and self-effacing person, Mark never allowed the spotlight on himself, but his interests included following Australian rugby and surfing, a hobby he indulged around Europe as time allowed.
Mark’s number must have been on speed-dial for practically every person involved in women’s rugby in Ireland and he was always on hand with advice in his usual impartial manner. It is still hard to believe that every query can’t be answered with the advice to "ring Mark" in the weeks ahead.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time. Irish women’s rugby is far the poorer for his untimely passing.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.