Enniskillen rugby coach Stephen Welsh has been left frustrated by the Ulster Branch’s new Covid-19 guidelines that have placed further restrictions on the club’s ability to deliver training at the club.

With competitive rugby not scheduled to restart until 2021, frustrations have been compounded by the fact that pods of only 15 participants can be present at the club at any one time, meaning they cannot replicate the previous training plans that saw them spread training sessions across their three pitches.

“We know it is a strange situation, but I think it could be better managed,” he said.

“Last time, it was pods of 15 but we could split the squad in half and Ashley [Finlay] and I could take 15 each and train at the club at the same time, but now it is 15 at the entire club at one time.

“It means we have to plan everyone’s session and give them time slots. As coaches, we figure in that number, so we can’t have our physio, two coaches and a Covid officer, because that would leave us with only 11 players, and it could take three or four sessions.

“Guys are used to their training times and they are working around families, and work commitments and now we have to set up a timetable for them, so logistically it’s hard.”


With the same problems affecting rugby clubs across the province, Stephen is one of a number of coaches to express their concerns to the Ulster branch about their interpretation of the guidelines.

“A few coaches have got together, and we are penning a letter to the branch to ask them to look into pods per pitch,” he revealed.

“Ulster Branch are adopting the Government guidelines and we think it could be adapted a little more fairly.

“Hockey is allowed one group per pitch, and we have three pitches, so we could get the whole squad in one night if we did it like that.

“The club is obviously struggling financially, with the bar being closed and things like that, and this means turning on the floodlights an extra two or three times that we otherwise wouldn’t have to do.

“It is so frustrating when you see other sports playing at the minute, and we are not even training.”

The restrictions have not only affected the first 15, with the impact being felt throughout the age groups.

Stephen is concerned that the club could be permanently damaged if they cannot find a way to get the youth players back on the pitch and enjoying the game.

“We are afraid we’re going to lose members,” he admitted.

“Maybe not at the top level, but within the club, people might think, ‘Well, I can play football at the moment; I might just go and do that’

“ Then when it is one or two degrees, and there is rain and sleet coming in, and we ask them to come back to training, then it’s not as easy as at the start of the pre-season when it’s a nice, sunny evening.

“We have 100 or so kids on a Saturday morning, and we had split that in half earlier in the year and did a midweek session.

“When you arrived at the club we had a good system where you had your temperature taken and there was an online declaration before you attended training, but this will be even harder now.

“The youngest group has over 15 people, and because some of those are five years old, one coach would not be enough, so that leaves only 13 players, and that might mean two or three sessions. When are we going to get all those in?”

The club have been advised that their competitive matches will not resume this year, and Stephen is expecting a curtailed season when things finally do get back under way.

“They have told us that there will be no competitive rugby until 2021 so I would say at Christmas time they will look at it and there will be a rescheduled programme,” he reckons.

“Unfortunately, we have an All-Ireland Cup game on January 2, which is in Dublin, and I would guess that would be off.


“We worked very hard last year to get into the All-Ireland. It was a massive goal of last year, and it would be massively frustrating not to get to play that.

“I don’t know what way they are going to do it, because obviously there are all the cups to be played, like Junior Cup, Towns’ Cup and then the All-Ireland Cup, as well as the League games.

“I would guess we would only be playing everybody once in the League, and you would get half the games at home and half away.

“All teams are in the same boat, but everyone is missing it at the moment. The club is a big part of everyone’s life, off the field as well as on the field, and I know the boys and everyone else is really missing it,” he said.