Club Focus: Reaping rewards of teachers' bravery
Setting up schools team in early '80s got oval ball rolling in GAA heartland - and Cork club is thriving at all levels, writes Ciarán McGreal
Published 14/10/2016 | 02:30
Kanturk RFC may be located in a GAA stronghold but that hasn't stopped the club's success in recent years.
The senior side compete in the All-Ireland League in Division 2C having secured senior status in the 2014 after a remarkable run of five successive promotions from the Munster Junior League Division 3 to the All-Ireland League.
Former Munster player John O'Neill coached the side during this period of success and played an enormous role in delivering success to the club, says club president Michael Breen.
"It was part of our plan," recalls Breen. "We decided to bite the bullet. We had put a lot of effort into our underage structure.
"We had a lot of underage players who were starting to feature with the provincial side so we said that if we wanted to make rugby attractive in the local area, we needed to have senior status so we sat down and planned.
"We had to make ourselves a bit more attractive than everyone else in the area.
"Soccer would be quite strong down here as well. We're battling against good clubs. But our catchment area is fairly large. We're bringing fellas from as far as Rathmore, the borders of Kerry and Limerick."
When Kanturk get back to action after the Champions Cup break with an away trip to Tullamore, the Cork lads will be hopeful of earning a second home win of the season against Bangor RFC.
The club was founded in 1927 but Breen feels that the underage set-up only began to thrive in the early 1980s.
The schools rugby scene was set up around that time and Breen feels this was a major factor in boosting numbers in Kanturk RFC.
"We had three very brave teachers who, in the heart of a GAA heartland, decided to set up a school rugby team," he says.
"That didn't go down too well 35 years ago.
"Those three teachers were largely responsible for engendering rugby into Kanturk. There was always an adults team in Kanturk, going back to the 1920s. It broke up around the war time and it got back up and running again in the '60s.
"But the underage rugby wasn't heard of back then until the schools started playing. That was back in the early 1980s - '82 or '83.
"We've two secondary schools in Kanturk and they both joined forces. It's probably the only time they've joined forces for anything.
"Tim Joe O'Connor worked in South Africa for years. He was a very good player himself. He became principal in Scoil Mhuire.
"Tadhg Leahy was another and the last one was Gerard Crotty. Gerard captained Ballincollig for a number of years.
"They would have all had a good rugby background having played in college".
The club's underage set-up is still thriving, with about 150 children currently playing from U-6s to U-12s, while the older age groups run from U-13s to U-18s, with similar numbers involved in those teams.
The underage numbers are growing, especially with the prospect of foreign trips once the children reach the older age groups.
"The U-14s and U-16s will have more numbers this year.," says Breen. "We're having a trip to Germany next year. We've been invited by the Bavarian Rugby Union to play a blitz over there.
"We have a tradition every two years of going on an away trip. We usually do the UK. It keeps fellas interested and it adds value to our club.
"The minute it was announced that we were going to Germany, the numbers increased! But the rule is, if you're at not training, you're not going to Germany!"
The senior side is coached by Ben Martin and captained by Sean Cremin.
So far this season, the club have played four Ulster Bank League games, securing victory against Seapoint while suffering losses against Midleton, Sligo and Navan.
The match against Navan was a thriller as the game ended 47-37 in favour of the Meath side.
This was in stark contrast to the clubs' meeting last season which finished 0-0 in tough conditions.
Former Ireland international Tony Buckley is Kanturk's most notable player of recent times. The prop began his underage career with Kanturk and played for Munster before joining Sale Sharks in the English Premiership in 2011.
Buckley won 25 caps for Ireland between 2007 and 2011 and was a member of the World Cup squad in 2011.
When he finished with Sale in 2014, he linked up with Kanturk again featuring in the senior side.
Buckley's wife, Elaine, is heavily involved in the club and she too is a former international.
Dr Pat O'Callaghan, the first man to win an Olympic medal for Ireland, also captained Kanturk. He also won a gold medal in the hammer throw in 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam and repeated the feat in Los Angeles four years later.
As with every rugby club achieving financial stability of the club is of paramount importance if success is to follow on the field.
"The biggest thing to watch when you play senior rugby is the finances," notes Breen.
"We don't owe anybody any money at the moment but it takes a lot watching because it's very easy run up expensive bills when you play senior rugby.
"We get great support from the IRFU and we're very grateful for that.
"But we're conscious of other clubs, for example if you have a change of committee and all of a sudden a big debt arises after a couple of seasons.
"There are some horror stories out there. We work hard to keep a prudent a very prudent watch on the finances."
Address: Knocknacolan, Kanturk, Co Cork
President: Michael Breen
Head coach: Ben Martin
Captain: Sean Cremin