Inter-pro triumphs proof all the hard work is paying off
Domestic rugby manager Ultan O’Callaghan reflects on a successful inter-pro campaign
The last three weekends have been great in that we have had great performances and the results have gone our way also. In the last few seasons we were still performing very well but were unlucky in coming out on the wrong side of the results.
It's the third summer of our Talent Camp programme and with the exact same work and dedication put in each season, the bounce of a ball would have been the difference when it came to the end results.
It's vital to understand that when you are working with transitional players from 16 to 20, their capacities are just being developed, they begin to identify what position they will play and earn their jersey by going up against the best from all six counties in Munster.
You have to allow players to develop and give them the opportunity to try things. There's going to be mistakes and good performances mixed with underperformances, but through these ups and downs we build a relationship with players, understanding who they are as a person, how they react under pressure and how we can get the best out of them.
Whether we like it or not, the professional game is judged on its results and we understand the pressure that comes with that, but if we are looking to impose it on a 16-20-year-old group, then we are setting ourselves up to fail because every player must be given the opportunity to try things and discover what the fracture points are within their game.
At this stage in players' development we need to adopt the role of facilitative coaching as opposed to a 'getting the result all the time' outlook.
We don't win inter-pros every year. Do we always strive to win them? Of course we do, we all strive to be the best we can be but we have had a huge amount of current Munster, Irish and Lions players that have come through the exact same pathway and haven't had the success of winning Schools, Clubs, 19s or 20s inter-pros - Conor Murray, James Cronin and John Madigan to name a few.
What you saw last weekend was the culmination of 14 weeks of work that also included warm-up and trial games.
On top of that, we had the winter programme where we screened and viewed Schools, Clubs U-18s, U-19s and U-20s games, Regional Development Squads and more, so there is a huge amount of work that goes on underneath the iceberg.
Our four rep sides account for up to 120 players but in total there are another 600 players that are also going through the process each year. Our coaches - in the academy, pro game and community - work with players on position-specific aspects of the game, identifying strengths and weaknesses over the season.
We also do a lot of educational work to complement our on-field work - in the areas of mental fitness and motivation, nutrition, concussion protocol awareness, anti-doping and more.
We do not have the playing base and volume of schools and clubs that other provinces have. What we do have is a very strong culture of working well with our schools and clubs to get the best players through the system and we are also very mindful and appreciative of the voluntary work that goes in there.
The sacrifices of the players, parents and families in getting those lads from places like Bantry and Waterford to training sessions, where, if training is in Rockwell, it's a four-hour return journey is amazing - great credit is due to them!
It's also interesting to note that the U-18 and U-19 squads had players from across the province - U-18s, Bantry to Waterford to Limerick, and U-19s, Skibbereen to Rockwell and Roscrea.
Now that the Inter-pros are finished, we're looking to push on. We need these players returning to their clubs and schools and playing in the best competition structures which is why our Youth, Schools and Age-Grade committees have put in place new competitions that will give players a minimum of 16 games at U-16, U-18 and U-20 levels.
High-quality competitions like these are how we add value to our players and if some of them are good enough to make the step-up to the AIL, better again.
A stop-start approach to competitions is where we see regression; however, thanks to the hard work of the Munster branch, these players are now constantly challenged in competition across the winter time and hence improved by the time we see them again.