New CEO already raising the bar for Connacht RugbyAugust 31, 2012 - 7:00am
NEW Chief Executive of Connacht Rugby Tom Sears believes the real journey for the province is only beginning now as it bids to become one of the leading lights in European Rugby.
Sears, who took up the role two months ago, says the work already done by out-going CEO Gerry Kelly and others, particularly over the last 18 months, has laid a solid foundation and he is excited to be taking up the baton.
The appointment of Sears has been a shrewd one because, quite simply, this is the sort of project he revels in. A former journalist, Sears previously worked for both the RFU and Northampton Saints before switching codes to become commercial director of Worcestershire County Cricket Club.
In 2005, he moved to Derbyshire County Cricket Club and oversaw radical restructuring of the organisation and its finances, the redevelopment of its grounds and returning the club to profitability.
His innate ability to develop the commercial interests of sporting organisations was by now gaining him recognition worldwide and in 2008 he was appointed as Head of Business Development for New Zealand Cricket.
Two years later, he became Chief Executive of Cricket Kenya, where he commenced and developed the implementation of a new comprehensive strategic plan for the sport to deliver on both core objectives and results at elite levels while also nurturing the overall growth of the sport. Sound familiar?
“If you look at Connacht, I think they are very much at the start of a journey,” says Sears. “There has been fantastic work done over the last 18 months or so and a lot has been achieved, but this work is still very much in its infancy. For me, coming here was the opportunity to be a part of something really special, and really building something.
“You don’t get many opportunities like this, certainly in sport. You
could go into Leinster, you could go into Leicester, you could go into Northampton, but you are just a safe pair of hands really. You are not putting your stamp on things or really building anything. Here, it is a real opportunity to go through a massive building period and a real journey and take it from where it is now to, hopefully, one of the leading lights in European rugby, which I think is achievable.”
While the growth of Connacht Rugby is a priority – for without it, the revenue needed to challenge at the top level will not be available – he also recognises that Connacht Rugby is essentially a close-knit community with an almost familial feel to the Sportsground. Unlike the “faceless monolith” to be found in other places and in other sports.
“You have got to retain that [connection with the supporters]. That is absolutely key to everything we want to do, be it building the squad, developing the domestic game or looking to make improvements to the ground. You have got to retain that feel and the essence of Connacht Rugby because that is what makes this place so special.”
That is why he believes it is vitally important to have a strong club game where Connacht can bring its own players through to form the core of the senior squad. To this end, young players from around the county and province must be able to see a pathway for progression.
“We have got to look at every level of the game. From the first time a kid picks up a rugby ball through to his involvement with his local club and school to graduating to a senior club,” reiterates the Chief Executive.
“We have to look at every level because we must have a strong and thriving domestic game that will pay dividends and help us achieve at the top end of the professional game. And if we do that, we will have more people coming through who will have the ability to play at the top.”
Of course, where Connacht has fallen down in the past – and still does in many respects – is that it doesn’t have the same spending power as their rivals and, consequently, it has found it difficult to attract the big names of international rugby – recent signing and former Scottish out-half Dan Parks aside – to complement local talent like captain Gavin Duffy, John Muldoon, Johnny O’Connor and Tiernan O’Halloran.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.