This year France’s Top 14 clubs will have €302.1million to spend on their teams.
Last year’s IRFU spend on professional game costs was €37.6m. It’s a stark contrast into how the game has radically changed over the past few years with lucrative tv deals and huge private investment giving English and French clubs a huge leverage over their Irish counterparts.
Without the population or the finances to compete with England and France, O’Connell is adamant that the onus is on the IRFU to boost the numbers from the bottom up. He points to one of the greatest teams in the GAA as an example.
“In Kilkenny they have kids in walking around with a hurley in their hands from a very early age,” O’Connell, an ambassador for the IRFU’s Aldi Play Rugby programme, told RTÉ Sport.
“This is about getting rugby into primary schools, getting teachers, coaches, parents trained up to implement and set up a rugby programme in primary schools.
“To get six, seven year olds, all the way up to 13, 14, get them playing, non-contact tag rugby, get them introduced to the game.
“That’s the IRFU’s philosophy – to produce players. It’s different to clubs.
“French clubs are privately owned, English clubs are privately owned. The provinces are owned by the IRFU and it’s their job to produce players and that is fantastic.
“Hopefully in ten years’ time we’ll have a kid that started with Aldi Play Rugby playing for Munster or Leinster or Connacht or Ulster or Ireland.”
Does O’Connell have a point? Is is time now for Ireland to start building for the future in order to stand a chance of competing?