IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne is to step down from his position at the end of 2021.

His decision will bring the curtain down on a tenure that began in 1998, only three years after the professional era.

He started working for the Union in 1992 as an administrative officer and in 1995 became the Secretary and Treasurer.

His appointment was the first such position to be created in the sport which had previously been run on a largely voluntary basis by the President and the Rugby Committee, both of who still maintain oversight and overall decision making approval.

The dawn of the professional era and the manner in which Ireland navigated those challenging times will go down as Browne’s greatest achievement.

The creation of the four provincial teams may have weakened the club structure but it created a powerful base from which to build a very professional infrastructure.

That enabled the national team to become stronger as well. On Browne’s watch, Ireland won two Grand Slams and Five Triple Crowns. In the previous more than 100 years, it had only won one and six of each. The greatest disapointment has come in relation to the bigger stage of the Rugby World Cup where we have still to get beyond the Quarter Final stage.

Off the field as well, that tournament has caused heartache with the failure of the bid to host the 2023 edition.

He has though overseen a powerful commercial arm with Vodafone as rock solid partners after O2 and Irish Permanent. The loss of Guinness as sponsors of the November Series is a blow but with more guaranteed coverage on free to air television it has not all been bad news over the past eighteen months.

Browne said yesterday that he had wanted to retire at the age of 60 but extended his stay to manage through the problems that rained down on the sport through Covid and lockdowns.

“I now believe we are at a point where it is possible to commence plotting a sustainable route out of the pandemic and engage in a structured approach to future longer-term planning, hence the announcement of my decision at this time.”

“It has been a privilege to serve as Chief Executive and while undoubtedly it has been a pressurised and challenging role it has, in equal measure, been a truly exciting and rewarding career.”

“I would like to thank the various Union committees with whom I have worked and the staff of the Union for their unwavering support as, together, we oversaw the constant changes required to ensure the Union remained relevant to its constituents and the world game.”

“I intend, in time, to reflect on possible future part-time commitments but, as of now, have no definite plans.”

Des Kavanagh, President of the Irish Rugby Football Union, expressed his appreciation, stating: “Philip Browne has been an exemplary Chief Executive of the IRFU over a period of enormous change within rugby and broader society.”

“His calm demeanour and wise counsel have been critical in charting an effective course for our game throughout his tenure.”

“In recognising his outstanding career, I, on behalf of the IRFU Committee, all his colleagues and the wider rugby family, express our sincere thanks to him.”

The process to seek his replacement will begin shortly and should attract serious interest from across the sporting and business communities.

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