Peter Malone is tasked with developing Munster’s next generation of superstars.
Although rugby has never been so popular in Ireland, those charged with running the game in this country have never been under as much pressure.
Not only are the Irish provinces finding it increasingly difficult to keep their best players out of the clutches of wealthy French and English clubs, but they must also produce an ever increasing number young players in order to maintain their position at Europe’s top table.
Therefore a great deal of responsibility falls on the likes of Peter Malone, Munster’s Elite Player Development Manager, who told us that the process of identifying potential academy inductees begins when players turn 15 or 16 years of age.
Those players who are identified as having the potential to be included in the academy are then invited to train with development squads for two to three day periods over the course of a summer. From there, players graduate to the Munster under 17s and 18s, where detailed succession plans are put in place illustrating who might be included in the next academy intake.
However that is not to say that late developers are overlooked. Malone and his team of coaches keep an eye of youngsters playing senior and under 20s rugby.
The player identification process not only extends outside the province, but the country, where Munster keep tabs on players who are Irish qualified.
Once a group of players have been identified, they are inducted into an academy programme that lasts up to three years. Within that period, players have their academic interests catered for, with training sessions built around their college timetables.
For Peter this was one of the most important factors of the academy programme, as ‘rugby is a very tough career and it’s very hard to make it’. Indeed, he stressed that even if academy players graduate into the professional set up, ‘form, injury and selection could could shorten your career very quickly’.
Consequently, academy players are expected to begin training at 7:30 am each morning before attending lectures at 10 am. Although some might argue that such a demanding timetable will have a negative impact, Malone has found that those who find a balance between rugby and education ‘turn out to be better players because they learned how to manage their time’.
Unfortunately however, such a heavy work load takes it’s toll. Of the six or seven players that are taken into the academy each year, on average only 60% to 65% actually earn professional contracts. That remains short of 85% target set by the province.
Indeed, in an effort to not only increase the completion rate, and accede to Philip Browne’s demand for the provincial academies to produce an increasing number of players at a much faster rate, Malone’s focus has shifted to identifying players while they are still at school.
Not only that, but the IRFU have placed a National Talent Coach in each province, whose real priority is identifying and emphasising the development of between ten and twelve players in each province who might make it into their respective academies.
Although there is an emphasis developing younger players, Malone maintained that Munster keep a close eye on players who line out for their clubs in the Ulster Bank League each week.
Nevertheless, while Munster did sign Matt d’Arcy from Clontarf last summer, it remains difficult for players to join a professional set up on a short term contract in the their mid 20s.
However the likes of Peter Malone will have to cast their net wider for players in the future, as he fully expects the big English and French clubs to soon start scouting young Irish players while they prepare for life as professionals in the provincial academies.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena