The cross-pollination between college and club rugby can be a difficult one to master for those players just out of school.

Institute of Technology Carlow is one that straddles the responsibility of pushing education and pulling on the shirt just about as well as any other institution.

Originally, former President Ruaidhri Neavyn had the bright idea to turn Carlow into a sports college, presumably as a point of difference. He contacted the IRFU, the FAI and the GAA governing bodies in pursuit of a mutually beneficial partnership. Rugby was the first to buy in. The GAA and FAI followed.

At this point, Leinster Rugby provides staff to lecture on modules in coach education and player development on a BA in Sports Coaching and Business Management degree course.

“IT Carlow runs a number of sports courses in sports science, sports rehabilitation, the business of sport and sports performance analysis,” states Brett Igoe, the programme co-ordinator of the Sports Coaching and Business Management degree course.

In 2020, this was reinforced by the opening of the stunning €15 million multi-purpose South Sports Campus, a training centre complete with six new pitches, floodlights, a walking trail, an athletics track and ancillary spaces such as changing rooms and meeting rooms.

“It is an incredible facility. If you walked into a sports organisation in Europe, you would be blown away. It really is state of the art. It is something that the south-east needed,” says Brett.

This upgrade in sports facilities coincides with the announcement that IT Carlow becomes a University in 2022 thanks to a partnership with Waterford IT. Before the opening of the new complex, IT Carlow already had state-of-the-art facilities including on-campus pitches, gyms and research labs. The new training base takes away the pressure on space.

“It takes the heat off training. It takes the heat off over-use for our three men’s team, our women’s team and those Leinster training groups,” says Brett.

“It will be permanently used by the rugby community in various guises, often hosting Leinster domestic competitions, including the colleges inter-varsity tournament.”

The link to rugby is wide-ranging. IT Carlow acts as a training base for the various South-East boys and girls clubs squads that prepare and participate in the regional competitions involving them, Midlands, North Midlands, North-East and Metro.

“IT Carlow has been a central point for Leinster’s age grade representatives from the area for several years. The likes of Joey Carbery, Peter Dooley and Tom Daly have come through here,” he says.

“The challenge Leinster had 10-15 years ago, still now, is how to make the best use of the schools and clubs pathways.

“For the schools, the players don’t have to travel to find the proper weights, the strength and conditioning expertise, all the extras that go into giving them a chance to compete at the next level.

“In fairness, the Leinster domestic game, under Phil Lawlor, came up with a plan to have central training hubs for Monday and Wednesday nights for each of the five regions to help the clubs players catch up physically.

“IT Carlow was chosen as the base for the South-East. It is an example of how there is a lot of good work being done outside the traditional schools system. I don’t think we champion enough the good things we do.

“Leinster is one of the best clubs in Europe. It is a real success story. But, it is not an accident,” admits Brett.

“By the time the players arrive at Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s doors, there has been so much work put in to identify and develop talent.

“But, they can’t be successful without the work that goes on underneath the professional level. For example, IT Carlow facilitates the Community Officers continual professional development. It could come in the form of coaching courses, an analysis workshop or a disability workshop for coaches.

“There is so much stellar community work going on throughout the province, whether it is on the pitch or off it,” adds Brett.

The third level impact of Carlow ramps up as a variety of courses are on offer to those considering working in the sports industry. The number of people who have graduated from Carlow includes 2021 Leinster Women head coach Phil de Barra, professional players Mick Kearney, Denis Coulson and James Connolly and six of the Leinster Women’s team including Lisa Callan and Emily McKeown.

IT Carlow prides itself, not only on their world-class facilities but, on their support around the student/athlete including the sports scholarship system, expertise in strength and conditioning, nutrition, sports analysis and mental health, all with their highly experienced staff. IT Carlow post graduate students have been involved in academic research around the game including game analysis and sports science.

In addition, as many as 16 members of the Leinster staff have come through the courses there, ranging from Community Rugby Officers, women’s development officers to analysts. For example, Corey Carty is a Community Rugby Officer for the branch and Eoin Smyth is the Leinster Academy Performance Analyst.

The partnership with IT Carlow has benefited Leinster in terms of providing skilled workers to their organisation. Brett is a Leinster age grade coach on the U-18 schools programme.

Brett is keen to promote the fact the rugby-related course is more than just another playground to sweat out the fun from the night before.

“Parents have this idea that it is a rugby course where you go to college to play rugby. It is a business course, a proper degree course, leading to employment.

“Rugby is big business. There are numerous areas around rugby, outside lifting weights and playing, that contribute towards a professional environment.

“The IRFU, with their four subsidiaries, the provinces, employ an army of staff whether you are talking about science, sports science, strength and conditioning, ticketing, marketing, data analytics, media, communications, commercial interests.

On the field, the structure of IT Carlow’s season means there is no push and pull for players. IT Carlow play in the IRFU/Student Sport Ireland third level competition, where they would be the team to beat, winning eight out of the last 10 competitions. The women’s team play in the same IRFU competition, competing against the likes of UCD and the University of Limerick. Their game day is Wednesday, with a mass exodus of players to train at their clubs on Tuesday and Thursday.

Two years ago, Lansdowne’s three props Greg McGrath, Martin Mulhall and Ntinga Mpiko played for IT Carlow in the same seasons they played Division 1A in the All-Ireland League.

“We’ve never had an issue with any club because our IRFU League and Cup competitions run on alternative weeks to the AIL.”

In the summer, McGrath signed for Connacht.

“I think Greg’s involvement in the course helped to contribute towards him winning his caps for Leinster in the PRO14 last season and getting into professional rugby,” notes Brett.

“When he was with us, he had two S&C sessions, one skill session every week. They were a focus for improvement before he went back to Lansdowne at the weekend.

“He is, technically, a late developer as someone who has worked hard to make rugby his profession.

“If you want to be a professional, the school or club, sub-Academy, Academy route is great. If you want an alternative route later on, while getting further education, IT Carlow is a good place to play and to learn.”

If you are interested in their course, please email Brett at or apply through the CAO.