Ireland's tag team pay to play in Australia
Published 04/12/2015 | 02:30
Australia's Sunshine Coast is a far cry from the current damp and dreary streets of Dublin but that's where Ireland's tag rugby teams find themselves this weekend as they compete in the World Cup.
The common perception of tag rugby in this country is that it is a mere social gathering, but in recent years, the game has been moving to a more elite level.
Britain had established themselves as an international force before they requested Ireland to play them in a challenge.
That took place three years ago in Limerick and when Ireland ran out 2-1 winners in the series, it piqued interest here.
Simon Bewley first brought the game to these shores in 2000 when he returned from a stint in Australia and since then the game has gone from strength, but there is still plenty of scope for further growth, as team manager Barry Keary explained:
"We have approximately 32 elite teams in Ireland. Most of those would come from Dublin, while two people travel over from London.
"The next step is to consolidate the regional championships and get the European championships off the ground.
"The long-term goal would be to establish a European Championship. France are hoping to have a team formed next year which would really help.
"These things will happen but they will take time. When Simon first brought tag rugby to Ireland, it was just an idea in his head but he made it a reality and the foundations are in place to build on that."
Ireland are competing in five events at the World Cup: mixed open, mixed seniors (female players over 30 and male players over 33), men, ladies and men over 30.
The tournament runs until Sunday; Ireland have been training in Australia for the last week (including a daily session at 5.30am to avoid the heat), which has come at a cost to the players.
"It's effectively all amateur so that means that the players funded the trip themselves," Keary said.
"They did manage to get sponsorship from KPMG and fundraised a lot of the money but each player was looking at approximately ¤1,800 to pay for their flights and accommodation, while the Irish Tag Association (ITA) paid that cost for the coaches.
"The ITA did hand over the profits that they made from the regional championships but it's really only a drop in the ocean.
"Once you get to the elite level, you lose the social aspect of tag. At the end of the day, you're representing Ireland at a World Cup and are competing at the highest level. It has become a serious sport."