Friday 9 December 2016

Club Focus: Birr RFC proudly flying the rugby flag in hurling stronghold

Offaly club survived hard times in the past to come out the other side as they continue to put in fine work

Brian Lowry

Published 28/10/2016 | 02:30

Birr natives Peter Dooley and Jack Regan pictured after Leinster ‘A’ action recently
Birr natives Peter Dooley and Jack Regan pictured after Leinster ‘A’ action recently

A club rich in history and one that has stood the test of time. Traditionally a hurling stronghold, Birr in County Offaly also boasts an impressive rugby club that has survived hard times to come to the fore as the progressive club it is today.

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Birr RFC stands as one of the oldest rugby clubs in the country, having been initially formed in 1887.

The club lapsed on several occasions, particularly during the two world wars and again in the mid-50s, but it was reformed in 1963 and has been in continuous existence since.

Resurgence

The resurgence coincided with the club purchasing four acres of land on Railway Road, known as the Moorpark pitch. This provided the club with one playing pitch and was adequate at the time as they only fielded one adult team, with no youths or mini sections.

Dooly's Hotel worked closely with the club in the early days. Dressing-rooms were non-existent and deemed a luxury, so the hotel provided washing facilities to the club on match days.

In 1968 the club started to field a second adult team. Initially, second XV games were played on Saturdays and the one pitch facility at Moorpark remained adequate.

Subsequently, the second XV were compelled to play on Sundays and this put severe pressure on the club to find additional pitches.

Birr then made the step up. They were fortunate enough to purchase a seven-acre field in Ballyeighan from the Land Commission in 1974/5. This facility, four miles from Birr, provided two extra pitches.

An added boost also arrived around the same time when the County Arms offered dressing-room facilities close to the Moorpark pitch.

In the '70s, the youths section was also born. Catering for boys from U-9 to U-19, the youths section took off and prospered.

In 1980 Birr amalgamated with the Ormond Lawn Tennis Club to form the Moorpark Sport Club.

Birr U-10 squad
Birr U-10 squad

A new clubhouse and with three tarmac tennis courts were build on the Ormond grounds. This merger provided Birr with a permanent home and a clubhouse with enhanced dressing-room facilities.

In 2001, the club secured a long term lease from Birr Urban District Council on a four-acre parcel of land in Scurragh, next to the clubhouse. This land was developed into two pitches and, in 2010, an extensive drainage scheme was installed.

Progressive

The club now has a full youths section, from U-13s to U-19s, and a full minis section catering for U-6 (leprauchans) to U-12s, as well as a progressive adult team.

One of their most cherished sons is Leinster prop Peter Dooley. Now playing his club rugby with Lansdowne, Dooley came through the underage system in Birr with his father heavily involved.

He represented Ireland in the U-20 World Cup and Six Nations, and has progressed from the Leinster academy to being a full member of the first team squad.

Dooley has played in both the Pro 12 and the European Champions Cup as he continues to develop his game under the guidance of Leo Cullen.

Another full-time pro with roots in Birr is Connacht's former U-20 international Shane Delahunt. Last season, the hooker won a Pro12 title - and Dooley played in the final.

More Birr men are making their mark at interprovincial and international level.

Jack Regan (son of Offaly hurling legend, Daithi) played for Ireland U-19s, Leinster U-20s and Leinster 'A', as well as for UCD in the top flight of the Ulster Bank League.

Chris Maloney represented the Leinster U-18 Clubs and went on to play for Ireland Youths.

Aaron Browne (Cistercian College Roscrea) represented Ireland at U-19 level and Michael Milne (Cistercian College Roscrea) played for Ireland U-18 Schools.

All the lads are quick to acknowledge the significant role Birr Rugby played in their rugby careers.

Last season, for the first time ever, the youths section fielded teams at U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-18 levels, a massive achievement and step forward for a club of Birr's size.

All the teams competed in Midland Leinster Leagues and also in Leinster cup competitions, with varying degrees of success.

Between all those squads, approximately 120 players took part and the club are indebted to the coaches who completed courses to be equipped to further their players' development and to deal with the demand.

In September 2015, the club set up of a women's section.

At the moment they have two groups, catering for ages of 15 and under and from ages 15 to 18, and they have progressed well, with teams competing in Leinster leagues at U-18 and U-15 level.

Off the field, the club also made ground this year after they launched their new website, Birrrugby.ie, which has proven to be a great success.

Regular news, reports and photos are uploaded regularly as the club look to broaden their base and look to the future.

Birr RFC factfile

Founded: 1887

Grounds: Moorpark, Scurragh, Birr

Club colours: Black, white and green jerseys, black shorts and black and green socks.

Division: Leinster Junior League Division 2B

Youths and Minis: U-6 to U-19.

Women's: U-18 and U-15.

Club captain: Alan Guinan

Next week's club focus is on Clondalkin RFC

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