Leitrim club are looking to the future
Club focus: Carrick-on-Shannon
While Leitrim is not traditionally a rugby stronghold, Carrick-on-Shannon RFC have enjoyed a boost in interest on the back of Connacht's recent exploits under Pat Lam.
Club president Peter Layden feels the prominence of Connacht Rugby has helped develop the rugby culture in Leitrim.
Once all you'd see around the town was kids decked out in Manchester United, Liverpool and even Munster jerseys. All that has changed thanks to Connacht's five-county outlook.
"The last two or three years, we've seen a steady increase. Connacht came up here last year to train and we got a big crowd.
"The kids came out to watch them and that was very important because there's no culture of rugby around here. That had to be started from scratch," explains Layden.
"The funny thing is that five or six years ago, kids used to come to training in Munster jerseys! Now it's Connacht jerseys. That has been a huge change in the last few years.
"People around the locality look for Connacht tickets. The club get a very small allocation of international tickets and back when we started ten years ago, we'd have trouble getting rid of them.
"Now I'm inundated with people looking for them. There's been a huge growth in the interest in rugby at all levels. Connacht in particular and also at international level."
The club was originally founded in 1974 before disbanding in 1993. The club was officially re-launched in 2005 by the then Irish head coach Eddie O'Sullivan as rugby began to take off in the province.
As with every club with intentions of climbing through the ranks, Layden feels the underage structure is central to the future of the club.
"There was no youth rugby coming up so that's the reason the club disbanded. We just didn't have enough players. But when we re-organised, it started with minis and the youth rugby. There's a structure to it now and there's a future for it.
"The re-organisation was based on the fact that the kids would be integral to it. The other thing that drove it was the resurgence of Connacht Rugby. People got interested because of that."
The senior team are a young side playing in the Connacht Junior League Division 1C and are coached by Dean Weaver.
The club currently lie second in the six-team league on the back of a 68-10 win against Claremorris last Sunday. The club drew 13-13 with Portumna and were defeated by Westport in the first game of the season.
Like most rural clubs, Carrick-on-Shannon have difficulty in retaining young players once they move away for college but the club are making an effort to keep the players involved.
"That's certainly an issue. It happens at two ages. In their mid-teens, rugby clubs lose lads to different sports and then when they go off to college, we do lose lads at that point.
"What we're trying to do is get them to come back to play matches at weekends. Even if they don't train with us, they can play with us.
"One of our failures originally was when lads would play a few years and then go. What we find is that after college, some lads come back and play with the club.
"There needs to be more of them. In this area, jobs aren't that easy to get so that needs to be worked on. All clubs are now suffering from that," explains Layden.
When the club was originally formed, it was named East Connacht in order to appeal to a wider area before the name was changed to Carrick-on-Shannon RFC in the early 1980s. The club still boasts a wide catchment area which Layden feels is important.
"We are lucky in that the nearest clubs are Longford and Sligo so we have a reasonably good catchment area. We'd go down as far as Strokestown, Elphin, Boyle, around that area, up into north Leitrim. We have a good catchment area. We should have enough to sustain the club," says Layden.
President Layden's son Shane was on Connacht's books in the last few years. He played for Carrick-on-Shannon at U-15 level and joined the Connacht academy in the 2011-'12 season. Layden appeared four times for Connacht's senior team, making his debut against Leinster in the 2011/'12 season.
The full-back/winger was also a key member of the Connacht Eagles team, lining out in the British & Irish Cup, but a few serious injuries halted a very promising professional rugby career. He currently plays his club rugby with Buccaneers and represents Ireland on the Sevens circuit.
Layden is quick to note the growth of ladies' rugby in the club.
The Irish Women's team secured a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2013 and this has impacted on many clubs around the country including Carrick-on-Shannon RFC.
"That has rubbed off on clubs. We did start off a ladies' team and it ran into hard times last year but it's back up and running this year. It's great. We have enough for a senior team this year.
"Girls haven't started to come through in the underage yet but we expect that will be the next development. A lot of clubs are developing ladies' youth teams," he says.
The underage set-up runs from U-8s to U-15s with over 80 players involved and president Layden praises the underage coaches for their efforts in sustaining the club.
"There are lots of people involved in various aspects of the club but I'd pay special tribute to the underage coaches," he adds.
"That's the most important job in the club. They're the people that are growing the club for the future."
Address: Castlecara Road, Dromore, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim
President: Peter Layden
Head coach: Dean Weaver
Captain: Jason Roddy