IRF Off: Connacht's fight for survival and the foundation myth of a rugby Identity
Ó Cofaigh, Éamon
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Cooke, Ruadhán, & Ó Cofaigh, Éamon. (2017). IRF Off: Connacht’s Fight for Survival and the Foundation Myth of a Rugby Identity. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 34(3-4), 201-216. doi: 10.1080/09523367.2017.1359162
Last of the four provincial branches to be formed in 1885, Connacht has always been fourth among equals in the pecking order of Irish rugby. In the late 1990s, spiralling costs associated with the administration of a game that was no longer amateur prompted the Irish Rugby Football Union to assess the viability of its constituent parts and to implement radical cost-cutting strategies, resulting in advanced plans to disband Connacht as a professional entity at the end of the 2002/2003 season. The response to the threat of extinction crystallized into an unprecedented movement of resistance which mobilized the western rugby community, garnered support from wider society and earned the backing of a number of senior political figures, culminating in the now famous March on Lansdowne Road in January 2003. By the end of the month, it was announced officially that the IRFU would not proceed with its plans to disband Connacht. This article will revisit the near-death experience of 2002/2003, analyse the narrative and dynamics of the protest movement and consider the broader and lasting significance of the successful campaign to save Connacht Rugby, particularly in respect of regional identity and collective identification.