Tullow building from the ground up
Club Focus: Tullow RFC
It wasn't all plain sailing in the beginning but Tullow RFC is now a deep rooted part of the Co Carlow community with a history dating back over 85 years.
Founded in 1928, the club found it hard to get momentum in its earlier years and, as a result, they had a stop-start existence.
That was until 1971 when the club was reformed under a stronger footing and since then, the club has grown into one that is now a recognised force in Leinster Junior rugby.
Tullow has developed at a tremendous rate over the last few years due in no small way to the performances of their best-known clubman, Seán O'Brien, for the British and Irish Lions, Ireland and Leinster.
The flanker dedicates a tremendous amount of time to the club, not just at senior level, but at all age grades. It would be common to have Seán in the midst of the youth teams giving instruction to up-and-coming players during youth training nights.
The concentration on youth rugby has been the life-blood of the club with trojan work put in by various coaches over the years. The club's facilities are second to none and include two full-size playing pitches, one of which is floodlit and the other is fully enclosed with a small grandstand for the comfort of supporters.
Youths and minis start from U-7s and range right up to U-19s with all accommodated at the club as they look to produce some of the future stars of the game.
Indeed, last season the U-10s made club history when they travelled to the Aviva Regional festival in Belfast.
Invited One of only four clubs from Leinster to be invited, it was the first time in Tullow RFC history that a team travelled to play a Rugby match in Ulster.
A particular notable event in their history was in 1994 when they hosted the Leinster Provincial Towns Cup final. The clubhouse, which extends to 4,500 square feet, includes bar facilities, ballroom, changing rooms and showers. With hard-working sub-committees involved in the various activities of the club as well as a very active ladies committee, the club has a strong and committed volunteer base.
In the ladies ranks, Meabh Donohoe has been part of the Ireland Sevens schools squad while other club players who played representative rugby for Ireland are Bernard Jackman, Mick Jackman - who played for Ireland 'A' team - and Harry Byrne who has represented Ireland at U-19 level.
More recently, young guns Gareth Fitzgerald, Cillian Redmond, Darragh Murphy and Charlie Ward have all played with the Leinster U-18 clubs side in the interprovincial win over Ulster and losses to Munster and Connacht.
Stephen Smith, William O'Brien and Frank Murphy represented the Leinster side last season also. Anna Doyle, Grace Kelly and Bethany Sharpe have also represented Leinster at Interprovincial level.
Bernard Jackman and Seán O'Brien are without question the most high-profile exponents of the club with O'Brien one of the best in the business and Jackman now coaching in the Top 14 league in France.
O'Brien was not involved in Ireland's heroic victory over the All Blacks last weekend but he remains one of the mainstays of the national team.
The club now fields three senior men's teams with the first team playing in the Leinster League Division 1B. Tullow did win Division 1B in 2012/2013 and that victory in the second tier gave everyone at the club a massive boost while they also came close to beating eventual Leinster league 1A winners - Tullamore in the semi-final of the Provincial Towns Cup the same year.
Unfortunately, the 2013/2014 season saw the Carlow men return to Division 1B but they continue to strive to reach the top league once again.
Last season was a tough one as they won just three league games all season but they survived and this season has started well with five wins and only one loss to leave them sitting in second place behind table-toppers Wicklow.
Tullow beat Wicklow on the opening day of the season 16-14 and had been unbeaten with wins over Portlaoise, Mullingar and Clondalkin before losing to Coolmine last weekend. They will be aiming to get back on track this Sunday when they travel to Kilcock to take on North Kildare.
The Provincial Towns Cup is a competition that they have yet to win but having reached the final in 2008 and 2012, the Tullow men are making all the right moves and with the Carlow club now in Division 1B, silverware may not be too far away. They had a good run in Towns Plate last season and after beating local rivals Co Carlow 34-6, they fell just short to eventual winners Ashbourne by two points in the third round.
They also field ladies teams including sides in the U-18 and U-15 age grades while their adult women's team play in Division 1B of the Leinster league. Sunday mornings are a hive of activity in the club as an active minis programme plays host to upwards of 150 kids every weekend.
The present committee in Tullow is led by club president Tom Nolan with Seán O'Brien (Snr) a past president. Tullow RFC have a very active committee having come a long way. From Division Three Leinster league winners in the 2006/2007 season to mixing it in the top division a couple of seasons back, Tullow will no doubt continue to made strides as the years progress.
Making a return to Division 1A is high up on the list but they, like any other club, are also looking to build from the ground up. With strong foundations and manpower in place, they look well set to have a prosperous future.
Grounds: Blackgates, Tullow, Co Carlow.
Club colours: Maroon and white jerseys, white togs and maroon and white socks.
Division: Leinster League Division 1B.
Minis and Youths: Under 7 to Under 19.
Club President: Tom Nolan
Director of rugby: Justin Sharpe.
*Next week's club focus is on Cill Dara RFC
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