DCU’s new Rugby Development Officer, Phil de Barra, has made it a top priority to ensure that his scholarship players endeavour to fulfil all the obligations that they agreed to upon accepting a place in the programme.
In total, there are nine students on rugby scholarships for this academic year; five new students and four retained from last year. These students are yet to be officially offered these places and for reasons of confidentiality, must remain nameless.
A recipient of rugby scholarships at IT Tallaght and IT Carlow, de Barra left no stone unturned in the selection process for this year’s scholarship recipients.
“Everything has been quite meticulous about who we have chosen and how we have chosen them. Some guys have been picked because they play different positions and they can do things to help me. I asked them were they available on certain dates and they are.
“There is a process and you look on paper how good they are, that’s the initial contact with them. Then you might try to meet the player, check up on their references and you get a feeling what this person is like. It’s their ability and because it’s a college team, you need someone who is going to be a leader and in rugby that’s important,” he said.
From here on out, the players on scholarships, which are tiered at an Elite or Talented level, must attend 50% of squad training sessions and fully honour the playing schedules they agreed to.
In collegiate rugby, coaches often find themselves in the vexing position of being unable to regularly select their most talented players, even those who are on a sporting scholarship. This is due to many of these players being contractually obligated to IRFU Academy programmes or playing for AIL clubs. These commitments supersede any agreement with a third-level institution.
Instead, many of these players become the public faces for the sport in their respective colleges and universities and are utilised by raising its profile throughout the local communities or by taking roles as supplementary coaching staff.
Some of last year’s rugby scholarship players at DCU included Aklhaque Khan, Tadhg Furlong and Colm O’Shea, all of whom represented Leinster at various levels.
De Barra acknowledges the frustration of these selection limitations, but emphasises the positive influence athletes of this calibre can have on the greater squad: “The guys who are in the academy are only allowed play a certain amount of games a year. Some of these guys are going to be playing for Leinster in a year or two, for a Fresher who is a novice, it really is a big deal having them around giving advice.”
DCU students on a sporting scholarship are afforded the opportunity to distinguish themselves both on the field of play and as ambassadors of their sport.
However, the scholarship programme is managed tightly and the students are not simply thrown money the moment they walk on campus. They receive no funding until Christmas, at which time, after an extensive review of their performance thus far, they will be given half. The scholarship will be reviewed two more times before year’s end. Students must provide receipts for sporting and academic costs before they are given a remuneration cheque.
Senior Sports Development Officer, Yvonne McGowan points out the myriad privileges that accompany these prerequisites.
“It’s a number of things; the services, the sports science, the mentoring, the workshops that they may not get otherwise. For a lot of them, it is about the profile and the status. When they leave here, they can say they got this based on their sporting achievements.”
McGowan also says that those on rugby scholarships have been made fully aware of what is now expected of them. “With clean eyes we looked at the criteria of what we wanted them to do while they are here and we then communicated to every student what we expected of them. The students are committed and they know what we are asking of them from the beginning.”
IMAGE CREDIT: Sportsfile