Arklow RFC: Reaping the rewards of youth and mini revamp
Underage sections booming at club that produced Shane Byrne - even with main pitch out of commission, writes Brian Lowry
Established in1936, Arklow Rugby Club have a proud history in Leinster Junior rugby.
The club has competed in four Provincial Towns Cup finals down through the years, with their first two appearances ending in defeat in 1968 and 1974.
Success was imminent, however, and in 1985, Arklow defeated Drogheda 9-6 to land the prestigious trophy.
Nineteen years later in 2004, Arklow repeated the feat when they got the better of Portlaoise in the final on a scoreline of 8-3.
Michael Hickey captained the side to their 1985 win, while Anthony O'Donnell led the Arklow men to their 2004 success.
In addition the club has secured numerous South East J1 and J2 Leagues over the years.
After the 2004 Towns Cup success, the men's team struggled to maintain the standards of previous years. This was due in part to a lack of numbers, with fewer players coming through from youth teams.
This was addressed with a re-invigoration of the club's minis and youth structure in recent years.
Arklow are now beginning to see the fruits of this, with the men's team winning the Leinster League Division 3 trophy last season, and the club fielding a men's second team this season for the first time in a number of years.
This season the men's team was coached by former Lions, Ireland and Leinster back-row Eric Miller.
Miller brought experience from his stints with Blackrock and Seapoint and despite only being promoted to Division 2B of the Leinster League this season, they had a decent campaign that saw them finish mid-table in fifth place having secured six wins.
They also compete in the South East JI League.
The ladies team, 'the Amazons', have been together for the past seven years since their inception back in 2010 and are currently captained by Samantha Dunne.
'The Arrows' are their U-18 girls team; this side represents the fruition of massive work down through the years at underage level.
The Amazons won the Paul Cusack Plate last weekend when they beat a fancied Trinity side up in Donnybrook 24-12. Tries from Claire Nicholson (two), Samantha Byrne and Lorraine Dunne sent them on their way to the win.
Meanwhile, the U-13s will be in action in Donnybrook this weekend in the U-13 Leinster Plate final as the club enjoy a busy end to the season.
The U-13s beat North Kildare 63-12 in the semi-final last weekend to set up their final appearance.
The minis and youths are an integral part of any club and Arklow's youth system has being growing steadily over the years. It is a regular occurrence to have over 150 children playing games and training every week.
Arklow cater for U-6s to U-18s and are widely seen as a progressive club, making all the right moves in underage Rugby.
Arklow have mini teams from U-7s to U-12s participating in south east Leinster blitzes.
With a vibrant and growing mini rugby section where the focus is fun, player safety and learning rugby skills, every child gets the same fair treatment, no matter their experience or ability.
The minis have a significant and growing number of girls who can play with respective mini age grades or the girls U-12s team.
This season has been a particularly exciting yet challenging year for the club.
Having successfully secured a Sports Capital Grant in 2015, the club made the decision to invest in their main pitch.
The corrective works will upgrade the pitch significantly, allowing it to better tolerate the relentless Irish weather and become a premium playing surface for years to come.
This work has unfortunately come at a cost, with the main pitch being out of commission for the season as it recovers from this work.
As a result Arklow have been forced to exist on the second team pitch for the season.
They have been fortunate to secure the support of a neighbouring farmer who offered a field as a temporary training surface for the year.
The performance of the senior men, women and U-13s is all the more admirable when you consider this handicap.
Successful former players include Shane Byrne, who represented Leinster over 100 times, amassed 41 caps for Ireland and played on the Lions tour in 2005.
From the ladies section of the club, their most notable player is Germaine Healy, who was capped for Ireland and has experience of coaching in Australia.
The club are very lucky to have a dedicated group of volunteers in administration and coaching, but they are always looking for new ways to get people involved, to ensure that rugby remains an important part of the sporting tradition in Arklow.
On the fundraising front, the club have joined forced with Arklow Rocks GAA club and will put on a white collar boxing night on June 24 in a bid to raise funds for both clubs. The event will be held in the Arklow Bay Hotel and it will hopefully bring the community together.
The club grounds are located just off the Arklow bypass, only five minutes from the centre of the town.
With two full pitches and a superbly developed clubhouse, it's the perfect place to spend a good afternoon watching rugby and enjoying a good drink with friends.
Arklow are a club that will always to be the fore when it comes to rugby in Wicklow.
Grounds: The Oval, Ballyrichard, Arklow, Co Wicklow
Club colours: Black and Red.
Division: Leinster League Division 2B
Youths and cinis: U-6 to U-18.
President: Diane Hunt
Captain: Aidan Louth
Ladies captain: Samantha Dunne