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Anniversary documentary shines a light on the importance of AIL

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All-Ireland League stalwart: Cork Constitution's Niall Kenneally. Photo: Sportsfile

All-Ireland League stalwart: Cork Constitution's Niall Kenneally. Photo: Sportsfile

All-Ireland League stalwart: Cork Constitution's Niall Kenneally. Photo: Sportsfile

There is a particular moment in the documentary that best sums up the Energia All-Ireland League and what it means to the thousands of volunteers, who are the lifeblood of clubs around the country.

The camera pans around John O'Mahony, who is standing in the Cork Con clubhouse looking at photos of the club's former internationals, including his son Peter, before he talks about the importance of sport to society, particularly during the pandemic.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Con winning the inaugural Energia All-Ireland League (AIL) in front of over 10,000 people at Dooradoyle.

It is perhaps fitting then that 'Energia AIL: A 30 Year Legacy', which will be shown on TG4 at 5.15 this Sunday, starts and finishes with O'Mahony, a long-time club stalwart, speaking about what Con means to him and his family.

The documentary, which is narrated in Irish but otherwise delivered through English, is a fascinating look at the history of the men's and women's AIL.

From Keith Earls to Niamh Briggs, Gordon D'Arcy to Fiona Reidy, current and former Ireland internationals feature, but it’s the voices of the less-heralded who strike a chord.

After all, they are the people who have dedicated their lives to the running of their local clubs and helped produce future stars.

There's Ken Redpath in the City of Armagh, who speaks eloquently about cross-border relations and how rugby helps bring folk from both sides of the border together.

Melissa Slevin's pride at being the second female president of Railway Union shines through, while Barbra McDonagh puts it well, saying Con is a second home.

It's only really when you watch the entire slick production that you get a true sense of the scope of the AIL, and its impact on local people.

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Stalwarts Matt D'Arcy (Clontarf) and Niall Kenneally (Con) give a fascinating insight into their rivalry, which has been going on so long, they and their families look forward to a pint together.

That's one of the most powerful messages that comes across in the documentary. Life-long friendships are forged through ferocious rivalries on the pitch, yet off it, there is a sense of community.

Reidy hails the impact of Briggs on women's rugby, as she, like former Connacht prop JP Cooney, who is coaching Galway Corinthians, continue to give back.

That sense of giving back is a hallmark of what makes the AIL so special and the documentary does an excellent job of portraying that.

Come for the feel-good stories, stay for Earls recalling himself and his dad Ger scrapping the opposition playing for Thomond.

It's a cracking watch, and not just for the AIL diehards, but general rugby fans too.

'Energia AIL: A 30 Year Legacy', Sunday, 5.15, TG4


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