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Ulster Rugby Means Business

The Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA) in conjunction with Grafton Employment Group and the University of Ulster, have today launched the ‘Ulster Rugby Mean Business’ mentoring programme.

The innovative collaboration aims to support players in securing a future career when their rugby playing days are over.

As part of the ‘Ulster Rugby Mean Business’ mentoring programme, University of Ulster and Grafton Employment Group will together support Ulster Rugby players in furthering their education and developing complimentary skills that will ensure that they are in a position to support themselves after their sporting career ends.

Welcoming the initiative, Professor Jim Allen, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Student Services and Sport) with the University of Ulster, said:

“Through our Elite Athlete entry programme, which recognises the time commitment required to reach elite level in sport, undergraduates can not only avail of reductions in entry requirements but through part-time provision, slow-track and distance learning options students can have the flexibility to allow them to pursue their international rugby commitments while still gaining a vocationally relevant degree.”

The University has a history of helping rugby stars achieve their academic goals with Ireland’s Tommy Bowe and Maurice Field both among the Ulster graduates and among the current crop of players studying at Ulster are Darren Cave and Nigel Brady, enrolled on the MSc Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology degree.

The School of Sports Studies is the leading provider of degree courses in Sport in Ireland and offers programmes in Sports Coaching, Sports Studies, Sports Science, Sport & Exercise Psychology, Physical Activity and Health, Sports Management and Sports Development with plans underway for a new postgraduate course in Sports Nutrition.

In addition to these degree programmes the School offers a range of short courses within the university's Certificate in Personal and Professional Development allowing students to accumulate up to 60 university credits for courses in sports leadership and coaching. Similar opportunities for athletes wishing to gain professional qualifications are available in all of the University's Faculties.

Rugby is also a truly International sport and the Ulster squad is representative of such flavour with Australian, South African, American, Scottish, English and Irish citizens contributing to the success of the team this year. The culture and diversity of Belfast city have also contributed to attracting top class players and the ‘Ulster Rugby Mean Business’ mentoring programme may convince a few to stay permanently or maintain links to the region long into the future.

The IRUPA is charged with protecting player welfare and securing players futures in and beyond rugby and Ulster Rugby is the main professional team of any sport in Northern Ireland. Rugby players on the whole will not earn enough to retire on and far too often, after many years of commitment, injury and performance can end their contracts whilst they are still young men. Therefore, development of an alternative skill-set whilst actively playing is essential in order for players to ensure they have a viable secure future in later years.

Hamish Adams, the Player Services Advisor with IRUPA, says that it is essential for players to be able to support themselves when the rugby career finishes:

“Individual players in rugby will not earn anything like the enormous salaries commanded by Premiership Football players and with an average career span of only 6 years at international level, we continually try to reinforce the importance of our players maintaining a balanced education and undergoing professional training to ensure that they have a viable secure future. The transitional period after retirement can be a particularly difficult time for players and we actively encourage all our members to up skill whilst in pro-rugby to assist in this major life change.”

The ‘Business Mentoring’ initiative has been welcomed by the squad and Rory Best, the IRUPA representative and Captain of Ulster Rugby, also advocates the importance of keeping an eye on professional development.

He sadi: “Rugby can be a cruel game at times with injuries and age taking their toll on all of us. It is imperative that we continue to promote and assist everyone to develop themselves professionally for the day when rugby finishes.”

Grafton Employment Group has devised four key steps that are currently being implemented as part of the ‘Ulster Rugby Mean Business’ mentoring programme, seminars and workshops covering topics such as career guidance and career planning; one to one mentoring sessions in CV preparation and interview skills; relationship building and networking; and work experience/placement opportunities, encouraging an agile approach to employee engagement.

Aidan McKee, Players Mentoring Manager, at the Grafton Employment Group Ireland that will be overseeing the ‘Ulster Rugby Mean Business’ mentoring programme said:

“We are all aware that the current recruitment marketplace is extremely challenging for many and this mentoring service will simply provide Ulster rugby players, many of whom began their rugby careers well before they received any formal career guidance, with a helping hand to begin preparing for alternative careers. Many of these services which we will be offering are available to all our candidates however it was essential to formalise this structure to take into account the special requirements and challenges that players who have dedicated many years of their lives to representing their localities in one of the nations favourite sports.”