Clonakilty: 'Only time we kicked the ball was to kick off'
Skills development and enjoyment key part of philosophy for forward-thinking west Cork outfit, writes Ciarán McGreal
Clonakilty RFC are continuing to look to the future as they celebrate their 40th anniversary this year.
The West Cork club's underage section is a priority with over 300 players registered and the coaches do everything in their power to provide an enjoyable rugby experience.
"We're limited in the space we have but we really do make the most of what we have," explains Garrett McCabe, who acts as PRO for the club's underage section.
"We use the local astro pitches for some skills training which is a great facility to use.
"If the tides are right, we go down to the big beaches in Inchydoney on a Saturday morning as an alternative! It's a bit different but there's great space down there."
Clonakilty caters for underage players from U-7s to U-18s and also has a girls set-up which has taken off in recent months.
"That's been an interesting development over the last six months," says McCabe. "We've got some coaches who are very keen to push that because for the last couple of years all the small girls would have been mixed in with the lads, which works up to a certain age.
"But when it starts to get more physical they tend to drop off. So we've put together a minis and a youth structure on a Sunday morning. That's going well ,which is great to see."
Ray O'Neill served as president of the club in the past and he recalls Clonakilty's prominence of the club's ladies team in the early 2000s.
"In 2002 we won the All-Ireland Senior Ladies Cup. Of that ladies team three or four of them were capped for Ireland," he says.
"One of those players was Laura Guest who represented Ireland at the 2014 World Cup. This year sees Ireland host the tournament and clubs like Clonakilty will hope that the tournament encourages more girls to take up the sport."
While the club has produced a number of internationals in the women's game, Clonakilty has yet to have a male representative at full international level.
"We've had a lot of very good prospects. We all look forward to the day when a Clonakilty man will wear a full Irish jersey!" explains O'Neill.
That said, the club has had a number of notable players down through the years.
"Terry Dillon played for Munster and his brother Derek was the leading try scorer in the All-Ireland League for two seasons running in the early 2000s.
"Derek was playing out of Cork Con at the time and Terry Dillon was our coach when we got promoted to the AIL," recalls O'Neill.
Clonakilty's senior side now plies its trade in the Munster Junior League Division 1. It's been a tough season for Steve Forde's charges as they have won just two of their eight games to date but McCabe is optimistic.
"It's a young team," he says. "It's a development team. It is a challenge but there's been a good coaching structure there for the last few years.
"They have a lot of support from the community behind them in that the numbers going to games, even away games, is pretty respectable.
"But it's a challenge. From the underage perspective, if we're doing our job properly, by the time they get to U-18s, we should be providing the adult players.
"That's the kind of lifecycle we'd like to see. If we do our job properly at underage then the senior side should be getting good, decent players."
And the club certainly has been doing a great job in producing young talent.
Cian Hurley, John Hodnett, Colin Deane, JD O'Hea and Travis Coomey have all represented Munster at U-18 level while Hurley, Hodnett and Deane have also been part of Irish camps at U-18 level.
Hodnett even had the honour of representing the Ireland Clubs U-18s side in a match away to Portugal back in November.
McCabe spoke about the pride those five players have brought to the club.
"It's fantastic and for a small club we're doing well in that we got guys into that space. It's a real honour. These are guys that have been playing in the underage section since they were all in U-7s.
"To see them come up through the ranks and put on red and green jerseys is super.
"They're great lads. We're really proud of them. We have them there on a Saturday morning at training so that the smaller fellas can see what's achievable. In many ways for the small kids, these are their heroes."
O'Neill feels the style of coaching that the players received along the way has contributed to their success.
"As a matter of policy as they grew up, they weren't allowed to kick the ball," he says. "All their rugby was played as running rugby which obviously gives them great balls skills which is putting them well up there relative to others.
"I watched our U-18s a few weeks ago and the only time they kicked the ball was to kick off! And they kicked conversions and penalties but other than that, running was the order of the day - running, evading and making space. It might be the way forward!"
Many say that rugby clubs aren't as prominent in communities anymore but McCabe feels that Clonakilty RFC has a great relationship with the town and its people.
"It's a proud club with a proud history. It's 40 years this year so it's still a relatively young club. We've got great support from sponsors and the local community," he says.
"If you come out here on a Saturday morning, there's a great buzz around the place with all the youngsters. It is, in the true sense, a club atmosphere.
"There's a great support network. People do look after each other."
Address: The Vale, Shannonvale Cross, Clonakilty, Co. Cork.
President: PJ Hayes
Head coach: Steve Forde
Captain: Olan Deane