Connacht Rugby look back on 2020

How will we remember 2020?

There comes a time in one’s life where you were alive for major moments in history which are the ones that you will always remember as clear as day even as you age. For many Irish people, the summer of 1990 will be forever etched in their minds as a joyous occasion and one that will never be forgotten. Nearly everyone remembers where they were when they first witnessed the news on September 11th, 2001. Good memories or bad memories we all have our moments in time that stick with us forever. Sometimes it may be a song, smell, or taste that takes us straight back to that moment.

On the 23rd March, we were told that the doors of Connacht Rugby would close for the foreseeable future until we fought the Covid-19 pandemic. Working from home became the new norm, the weeks rolled by, summer arrived and like many others, we thought we would be back in July. This article is being typed from a makeshift office desk also known as a kitchen table. One thing that has kept our faith was the return of our players to the Sportsground back in July and the return of the game of rugby to our screens at the end of August. Crazily enough, the end of the year 2020 is closer than we think. It is hard to believe, we all went into 2020 with new plans and new goals then suddenly they were put on hold. But perhaps now is a good time to reflect on those past 6 months and pose the question “How will we remember 2020?”


People and Community will always save us

Rugby like many sports creates a sense of community within people, whether you are a supporter, player, or volunteer, it can create something special inside of you. The news of all sports including rugby coming to a temporary halt broke a lot of hearts. That void was going to be left empty for so many people and whilst we were told to keep apart, we wanted to ensure that our supporters felt a sense of unity. People and Community have been at the forefront of this pandemic. The emergence of people’s kindness and good news stories has certainly kept a smile on many faces throughout these past months. No matter what we are going through, it is important to come together as a community, whether that is in work, where you live, or amongst friends. One of our core values in Connacht Rugby is community, we involve it in everything we do as an organisation.

At the start of the pandemic, we wanted to help the community of Connacht in some way. We decided to create a “Heroes” charity jersey in aid of our charity partners Galway Hospice and other hospices within the province. We also selected the charity ALONE who work tirelessly to help the elderly and those living by themselves. We wanted to create an exciting jersey for our supporters while also giving full proceeds to the mentioned charities and a thank you to our frontline workers. We collaborated with our official retail partners Intersport Elverys and our official kit suppliers BLK to create the Connacht Rugby Heroes jersey which successfully sold out in minutes and raised the much-needed funds for our selected charities.

As stories broke of those who were alone and isolated, we wanted to ensure that our vulnerable and elderly season ticket holders were our priority. Our professional players worked together to call those on the phone who needed it the most. The power of one conversation can impact someone’s day. There is no doubt that we will all remember this period as a time where we had time to catch up properly with loved ones and those who we lost contact with. Maybe some of us want to forget the 100 Zoom quizzes we had in the early stages, but none the less we will continue to remember them with a smile. Many will recall the early lockdown stage as the “Zoom quiz phase”!

As much as we want to inspire and help our community whenever possible, we rely on them just as much. Our community is our beating heart and during this pandemic we have relied greatly on the support of our community. This has included our clubs and schools, supporters, season ticket holders, partners and sponsors. They have all been unwavering in their support even though they themselves faced their own challenges and uncertainty. Without them, there would be no club. We thank them all


Technology is our friend

Even considering the new wave of reliance on features and systems delivered by tech giants Amazon,  Zoom, Netflix, and Microsoft, 2020 has arguably been TikTok’s year. Is  there a person who hasn’t been entertained by at least one TikTok video.? Although social media can have its negatives when it comes to fake news, it gave people a chance to have some fun and create some light-hearted content throughout the pandemic. How lucky we are to have experienced this pandemic in this decade. It wouldn’t have been as bearable in the ’90s if you were waiting to call your friends from the house phone after 6 pm to get a cheaper rate or waiting for your dial-up connection to allow you to log onto MSN messenger to chat to those abroad. The ease of transition from working in the office to at home has been seamless. Our operations team in Connacht Rugby had set up in house training with our Technology Partners Intuity to arm us with the tools to work from home. We became familiar with Microsoft Teams and SharePoint. These applications have been the anchor for us these past 6 months and will continue to be as we continue to work from home.

Recently, we launched our new online membership platform the 1885 membership club. Through Microsoft Teams we were able to collaborate while working from different locations. We were able to build this platform from scratch which started with brainstorming over a Team’s call to then assigning responsibilities using the actions function on the application, it took weeks of work and we eventually launched it for our first game against Ulster in August. We were able to host our exciting new fan zone before both Interprovincial games, all done while working from home. Our focus has shifted to what can we create using technology. Before, it was a combination of technology and face to face immersive experiences. Our new challenge is bringing that personalised immersive experience in the Sportsground to people’s screens as they watch us at home.


2020 is somewhat out of our hands

Not many of us have experienced something like this in our lifetime. We are all trying to navigate as best we can whether that is in the work environment or at home. One thing is for sure is that we have all learned something new.  We all probably view life a bit differently after the past year. A lot of us found ourselves working from home or going to fewer social occasions. That has given us extra time at home, which would usually be dedicated to our work commute or rushing from one place to the next. Personally, I view life a lot differently and have to say although the experience has been hard, I appreciate the time I have spent with the ones closest to me. It has given me time to reflect more on life and to appreciate the simple things in life. There are so many ways people gained this new perspective whether it was being present while baking 20 batches of banana bread, listening to podcasts that you put off for so long, or attempting to play that instrument you put down ten years ago.

Like many businesses, there is no set date on when we will be returning to our offices, all Connacht Rugby staff remain at home and continue to live in hope that our supporters will be allowed back at games. We have had some exciting moments when rugby returned to our screens, the return of our skill zone summer camps and domestic rugby. These are all great milestones for us and are the results of a lot of teamwork put in by all staff in the past 6 months. Not everything can be controlled but we will work hard on what we can control. The work environment has changed forever, and we will continue to work and adapt to the changing tides.

Some people may want to forget about 2020, those who have had a loss, financial strain, and difficult situations to deal with. We have all gone through this together not just as a community or a nation but as a planet. Through all the hardship it has made the world smaller, brought us closer, and allowed us to empathise more with others. When we look back in a couple of years, the main things that will stand out about this time will be face masks, hand sanitizer, zoom quizzes, banana bread, kindness, tough times, TEAMS and zoom calls, staycations, 2km radius, BlackLivesMatter, front line workers. Hate it or love it we will all have our own memories, 2020 will stay in our minds forever, as we look toward the future who knows what there is in store for us. Let’s not think about it too much.

Aoife Kilderry, Connacht Rugby.

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