Community spirit helps overcome lack of facilities
Club Focus: Killarney RFC
KillarneY RFC emerged in 1983 out of the ashes of the original club which was founded on April 28, 1928 when they secured a playing pitch from the Earl of Kenmare at Countess Road.
The club thrived for several years, but war and emigration took their toll around 1935 and it became defunct until 1954 when it was re-established.
The club progressed for many years up until 1972 when it was once more disbanded.
Finally, Killarney RFC was reformed in 1983 and has been an ever-present on the Munster scene since.
One of the barriers to successful growth that has plagued the club since its inception has been the lack of a proper base.
During the early 1980s, the club trained on land adjacent to the Killarney Ryan Hotel which kindly provided changing facilities. Matches were played at Deerpark on ground owned by a former member.
The club then moved base to Killarney Racecourse for several years, before shifting again in 1993 to its current base at Ballydribbeen, on lands owned by the Health Service Executive.
"Killarney are top of the pile in terms of the structures that are in place," said Liam McGuire, club development chairman.
"We're doing well in the J1 League and have over 200 age-grade players training every Saturday.
"The negative is that our facilities are so appalling. At the moment, we have three containers which constitute our clubhouse and there are no shower or toilet facilities. There is only one pitch and a little training area, but obviously, with so many teams playing, we are cutting it up and it becomes a mud bath very quickly."
The club officially became freehold owners of a site just outside the town in Aghadoe in May, 2012. Full planning permission has been procured from Kerry County Council for the development of a sportsfields, changing rooms and ancillary facilities. The club began their development last summer with capital raised by the community, who quickly formulated an 'all hands on deck' strategy driven by the Killarney locals.
"We had the most fabulous summer we've seen for a long time and simply couldn't wait around. An executive decision was made – in about two minutes – that we'd enlist the help of members of the community who provided us with tractors/trailers and anything else we could get our hands on to get the job started," said McGuire.
"There was a lot of earth to be shifted followed by levelling and we put some amount of man hours in over 10 weeks from July to September."
About 50 locals in all volunteered their help, from farmers to accountants, many of whom that had never been involved in the club before, but were delighted to help out.
"Our plans are to have three pitches and a juvenile area. Because we didn't have a huge amount of confidence in our ability, we decided not to start with the premier pitch in case it didn't work out as well as we would have liked, so we started with what we call the second pitch," he said.
"We took a good bit of professional advice and while we couldn't financially do things exactly to the book in terms of the pitch construction, we've taken the important elements of recommend-ations on board and put a good drainage system in. I think that we've ended up with a fairly good product."
With plans in place for Killarney's new facilities to be completed by the end of next summer, McGuire said the club's main focus was to continue to raise funds to take on the next phase of the development.
"The primary challenge is centred around our own fundraising, which would sort out the facilities aspect of the new grounds," he said.
"We've plenty of people on board who can pull off the manual work, so there is now the task of raising enough money to do so.
"We've spent €600,000 so far which includes the purchase of the land and the professional fees.
"We estimate a further €400,000 is required to get all the pitches finished and our dressing rooms built.
"The town has been so supportive of the venture in many ways and for that we are indebted to them. We have raised funds through an auction for unwanted items, hosted a pig on the spit festival and held a fashion show to name but a few initiatives.
"We are also very grateful to Mick Flannery who supported us by kindly performing in a free concert with proceeds going towards our development."
He acknowledged that there were challenges ahead for the club.
"A further challenge for us is to convert our players from age-grade to adult and, more importantly, to retain them," said McGuire.
"Our objective is to keep young people in the game and continue to grow Killarney rugby club. We've got a good sprinkling of young talented players coming up through our youth section and have a couple of good guys coming out of the cadets whom we think will be good enough to make it on the Munster U-18 clubs side in a year or so. We have fantastic youth co-ordinators. They are overseen by Tom Campbell and Fergus Cronin, who are key to the continuous growth of youth rugby in Killarney.
"There is also a demand for women's rugby in Killarney and we would love to get it going. With our current lack of changing facilities we haven't a hope, but when we are up and running in Aghadoe, we will be taking girls and women's rugby development very seriously."
Killarney RFC have also planned to take advantage of their magnificent surroundings and will set out to host future rugby tournaments once their new grounds have been completed.
"We get many requests from overseas teams to come and play us. To that end, we'd be saying to local businesses that if we can get our new club up and running there is a huge place for rugby tourism in Killarney," said Junior Finnegan, club chairperson.
"We are looking at hosting a three- tier festival and ideally the more international participation the better.
"There have been many rugby events that have blossomed and grown over the years and we want to be part of it.
"If we put the word out that we plan on hosting a rugby event in Killarney, we would be supported by the local businesses, hotels, etc, who would make sure we have the professional assistance behind us, thus ensuring its success. Hopefully, that's not too far off."
Killarney RFC Officers
President: Pat F. O'Connor
Hon Secretary: Anne Clifford
Club PRO: Mike Fuller
Fixtures Secretary: David Hickey
Chairman of Rugby: Junior Finnegan