Athy RFC: Looking to unearth the next Joey Carbery
Ireland starlet honed his craft at Kildare club, where the focus is on youth, facilities and the local community, writes Brian Lowry
Founded in 1880, Athy RFC is a vibrant community-based club located in south Kildare that continues to serve Athy and beyond with their rugby needs.
The club continues to grow from strength to strength with the adult section fielding three teams.
The men's first team compete in Division 2B of the Leinster League while the seconds are in the South East Seconds League, which they won back in March.
The firsts had a decent league campaign, finishing in third place, but their dream of lining out on home soil in the Towns Cup final ended back in the earlier rounds.
A women's team was formed back in 2012 and they have continued to grow, with increasing numbers getting involved in training and matches each week.
As with any club, the youths and minis sections are vital. With approximately 250 players taking part over a range of teams and grades, the future stars of the club - and hopefully province and country - are well looked after.
Just this season, the club introduced an initiative called the 'Rugby Cubs' introducing players below the age of six to the game in a controlled and supervised environment appropriate to the age group.
The minis section is where the love of rugby develops. Creating memories is something Athy RFC work hard on and they have had great numbers and success in recent years.
At the end of the season they host an annual festival known as the 'Rugby Camp Out', a hugely successful event that attracts over 75 minis teams from Ireland as well as abroad to the club each year.
This year's Camp Out takes place next weekend, April 22 and 23.
The club produce teams at U-13 (two teams), U-14, U-15, U-16 and U-18, with an emphasis put on developing the skills of the game and bringing players through to play adult rugby for the club.
In recent years, the hard work put in at grassroots level has seen former youth player Joey Carbery break through to the full Ireland side, while Jeremy Loughman has represented the Ireland U-20s.
Carbery has really put Athy on the map with his meteoric rise through the ranks to now be a vital cog with the Leinster senior squad, and earning his first senior Irish cap against the All Blacks in that famous win at Soldier Field, Chicago.
Current youths player Martin Maloney captained the Leinster Clubs U-18 team this year and was capped for Ireland in November.
Additionally, six Athy players are on North Midlands U-16 team, while the club have one representative on the Leinster U-17 development squad.
The success of the women's team has resulted in the fielding of an underage girls team for the first this season at U-15 level.
The plan would be for these girls to carry on playing all the way up along and develop into future stars of the women's team in the club.
To cater for the increasing numbers of players, Athy have completed an ambitious development plan over the last 10 years to improve their infrastructure.
In this time the club has built an all-weather pitch facility that can cater for five-a-side soccer and rugby training.
They have also expanded their training and playing areas to incorporate four playing pitches, three of which have training floodlights, while they have just made final arrangements for the installation of match floodlights on their main pitch, the venue for this Sunday's Provincial Towns Cup final.
The entrance road and area in front of the clubhouse was asphalted to improve visitor and member experience and well as improving safety.
Clubhouse alterations have seen the building of four new large self-contained dressing-rooms, each complete with own showers and toilet facilities and able to cater for the modern larger match-day squads.
A large dis-used space upstairs in the clubhouse has recently been revamped to include new flooring, bar counter and kitchen facilities.
These upgraded facilities and pitch improvements will be on full view to both supporters and teams of Skerries and Tullow who compete in the Towns Cup final.
Hosting the final is a huge honour for Athy as they have a strong connection to the Towns Cup, being one of the founding clubs in the original competition known as Leinster Junior Challenge Cup.
Athy RFC are fortunate to have a strong tradition of rugby within their catchment area.
They owe much of their current success and facilities to the endeavours of both present members and past members whose commitment and hard work for the club have helped to make it what it is today.
Grounds: The Showgrounds, Dublin Road, Athy.
Youths and Minis: U- 7 to U-18
Division: Leinster League Division 2B
President: Brendan Markey
Captain: Alan Harding