Sunday 22 October 2017

Revelling in 'The Pride, The Passion, The Blue'

Club Focus: MU Barnhall

Barnhall’s Tom McKeown in action against Naas
Barnhall’s Tom McKeown in action against Naas

Brian Lowry

The partnership between Maynooth University and Barnhall RFC has triggered a new wave of energy in a club that had the vision and work ethic to make such a partnership work. 2005 saw Barnhall RFC engage with Maynooth University as they looked to develop a rugby scholarship programme, befitting a University rugby club and that is beneficial to both parties, ensuring the future looks bright for all concerned.

The scholarship programme is now under the stewardship of Tom McKeown. Tom worked with Leinster Rugby for almost six years before taking on the role last summer. However, he has always been a Barnhall blue - making over 150 first team appearances as a player. He captained the club for two years (2013-2015), played Rugby League for Ireland and is currently on an unprecedented run of 120 consecutive All-Ireland League appearances to date.

MU Barnhall RFC director of rugby Sam Cawley says: "Tom is the ideal candidate to bring the club's development to the next level as he marries the commitment and passion he has for his local rugby club with his professional ambitions. His role is key to provide a conveyor belt of talented players through our youths system to scholarship/U-20s and on to Ulster Bank League. The early success he has displayed coaching our U-20s is very promising. We currently sit top of Premier 2 with a very talented, hard-working group of players and management. "

Milestone

2010 was a real milestone for the club as it was to be from this year on, that they would be officially known as NUIM Barnhall. The club's successful marriage with Maynooth University wouldn't have been possible without the tireless effort and work of many, but one man in particular who is worth mentioning is Eddie Fitzgerald, a founding member, supporter and, until recently, the club's long-standing director of rugby.

There was of course rugby life in Barnhall before the amalgamation. Back in 1969 the Barnhall club was founded by employees of Irish Meat Packers and they were affiliated to the Leinster Branch of the IRFU. In the late '70s, they began to get involved in the development of the Youth and Mini rugby in Leinster, something they carry through to the present day.

MU Barhhall’s Luke Mellett, Barry Hill, Tom McKeown and Simon Gillespie meet with Australia coach Michael Cheika last November. Photo: Christine Taylor
MU Barhhall’s Luke Mellett, Barry Hill, Tom McKeown and Simon Gillespie meet with Australia coach Michael Cheika last November. Photo: Christine Taylor

A young club by all accounts, Barnhall RFC, as they were known at the time, purchased their grounds in 1986 and by the time 1991 came around, the club had completed a clubhouse and were honoured to have it officially opened by President Mary Robinson.

The year of 1999 can't go unspoken either as they gained promotion to the AIL and stepped into Senior Rugby by coming through the Junior ranks and topping the then 200 Junior clubs in Leinster.

Today they sit proudly in Division 2B of the Ulster Bank Senior League with five male senior teams in action on any given weekend from the first team right down to Leinster Junior 5. A strong U-20 team are top of the table in the Premier level of the Leinster ranks while at underage level they have an extremely busy and active system that sees them compete from U-7 all the way through to U-18.5.

The partnership with Maynooth University is also growing strongly. Now in their 12th year since its inception back in 2005, the Academy has seen a steady growth in numbers and in quality and this year a ladies scholarship programme was announced for academic year 2017-'18 onwards.

The club has ambitious development plans. There was the recent upgrading to the changing rooms, two new dressing rooms for women's rugby and a new state-of-the-art gymnasium which was completed by January 2014.

Last year saw the start of major redevelopment and upgrading works on the pitches which, when fully complete, will have grounds with the best natural grass in Leinster and make the club the envy of their peers.

There is no doubting the club's most famous son. Now residing in Toulouse, Trevor Brennan is an iconic figure of Irish rugby. The passion and desire he showed in the green jersey was unique and it was at Barnhall that it all began for him.

An Irish international as well as a former Leinster representative, Brennan has remained close to his roots and still has a fond place for the club in his heart.

Over the last 12 years the MU Barnhall RFC Ladies (affectionately known as Babes) have also been very successful, contesting three finals, the Leinster Development League final in their first year and the Leinster Division 3 League final twice, winning the competition in 2011.

The club primarily serves the towns of Leixlip, Maynooth, Celbridge, Lucan, Straffan and surrounding areas with a combined population of over 150,000. The club boasts a playing membership of approximately 700, ranging from seniors and minis. Non-playing membership is also strong with somewhere the region of 200 people also signing up.

The club boasts a long list of honours from underage right up to the senior sides with youths level proving particularly fruitful. Along with a host of club and school trophies, the club won the Leinster U-18 league in the 2004-'05 season while winning the Leinster U-16 Premier division a year later in 2005-'06. The 2007-'08 season saw them claim Leinster Branch Schools Youth Cup as well as the U-16 League and Cup double. This season has seen no fewer than five players from the U16s team selected to play for Leinster Metro.

2013 saw Paul Deering become the 92nd president of Leinster Rugby Branch and the following year the club were proud to be awarded Leinster Club of the Year.

MU Barnhall RFC

Founded: Barnhall RFC - 1969; MU Barnhall 2010

Grounds: Parsonstown, Leixlip, Co Kildare & Maynooth University North Campus.

1st XV Division: All-Ireland League Division 2B

Club colours: Sky Blue and Navy jerseys, Navy shorts and Sky Blue socks.

Senior teams: 5 men's senior teams, Under 20s, women's team.

Youths and minis: U-7 to U-18.5

Captain: Simon Gillespie

Next week's club focus is on North Kildare

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