As Leinster Rugby look set to establish their headquarters on the UCD campus, Stephen Devine suggests that their money could be put to better use
Leinster Rugby has always had a good working relationship with UCD. The college’s rugby club has provided many players to the provincial set-up and in more recent times, Leinster have made use of the training facilities on offer within the college. If reports are to be believed, plans are afoot to make the connection between the two bodies more permanent.
Currently, Leinster’s training and administrative set-up is spread out in a three-mile radius from Donnybrook where the stadium that is synonymous with Leinster Rugby is located. Their gym facilities are based in the Riverview complex in Clonskeagh, which also houses head coach Joe Schmidt’s office, along with those of his coaching and medical staff. Their training facilities are housed in UCD, incorporating the grass pitches adjacent to the Student Centre and also the all-weather pitch. Meanwhile, all the administration of the province takes place in the relatively small Donnybrook office located across the road from the Stadium.
It has long been believed that for any top-class organisation to be completely efficient and productive, its resources should be centralised. The Munster team has based itself in the University of Limerick. Relocation to UCD, and in particular the Phillips Centre, presents Leinster Rugby with the chance to follow suit.
The proposed move, however, would not come cheap – with an estimated fit-out cost of €2.5million and a yearly rent of €500,000, which, in the current economic climate, seems excessive. The move certainly has its drawbacks. Although the Leinster branch has made no official comment, it is believed the move would be funded through private benefactors.
Leinster’s current financial situation must also be assessed. The province declared a deficit of €300,000 at the end of last season. They are currently burdened with the debt related to the €8 million refurbishment of Donnybrook stadium which took place in 2008. This financial reality meant they were not able to sign a big-name replacement when Australia’s Rocky Elsom returned Down Under.
The emergence of Kevin McLaughlin and Sean O’Brien masked the hole left by the Wallaby, but more departures could be on the way. Reports in the media recently have linked influential outhalf Jonathon Sexton with a move to France at the end of the current season.
With the current crop of academy outhalfs, including Ian Madigan and Ian McKinley, not yet ready for the step up to Heineken Cup rugby, Leinster fans would expect a big-name overseas player to come in and fill the void if Sexton were to depart. The name being suggested as a possible replacement should the money on offer in France prove too much for Sexton to resist is Berrick Barnes, who currently plays his rugby for the New South Wales Waratahs.
Many fans will feel that this is where the province should be allocating their resources. The team has seen both their performance levels and support rise over the last five seasons with their current set-up. Consequently, a move towards centralisation of resources is seen by many as unnecessary and merely, as an attempt to follow fashion.
The move on paper would seem to be very attractive from a UCD point of view. The rent coupled with the prestige of having a professional sports team based on campus would no doubt appeal to UCD management. The loss of the Phillips Centre, however, will concern the UCD Boat Club as it is the current home of the club’s training facilities.
While the partnership between Leinster and UCD would have many benefits from a UCD point of view, it may not be in the best interest of Leinster Rugby going forward.