Monday 25 September 2017

Cork club starting to find its feet once again

Club focus: Fermoy RFC

Peter Stapleton sidesteps a tackler
Peter Stapleton sidesteps a tackler

Dick Mackessy

Fermoy Rugby Club, officially founded in 1970, is located at the old Showgrounds in the heart of the busy north Cork town.

Steeped in history, rugby was first played at Fermoy by members of the British Army, who, in the 1900s, established their military barracks in what was then a garrison town.

It is recorded that there was a rugby team known as The Green Leicester Tigers in Fermoy when the British Army were located here. The club disbanded when they moved out in and around 1922 when the Irish Free State was first established.

Fermoy RFC was reformed in 1970 by founding members John McCarthy, Bernard Hyde, Tom Lawton, Tom Kelly and then club captain Dick Heaslip, father of Ireland international Jamie Heaslip.

In John Breen's play 'Alone It Stands' he recalls the Munster players training to the headlights of motor cars in the Fermoy club grounds in preparation for their historic victory over the mighty New Zealand All Blacks in October 1978 at Thomond Park, Limerick.

Since its formation, Fermoy has made huge strides in the development of the club's grounds and its facilities. There was originally one playing pitch at the time of the club's formation. A second pitch was developed and, sometime around the end of the 1990s, it received lottery funds which were used to upgrade pitches, footpaths, floodlighting and various facilities. The club received additional money in the 2000s, which were used to develop the clubhouse itself.

Fermoy RFC’s mini rugby players
Fermoy RFC’s mini rugby players

Fermoy RFC pitches are regarded as being among the best in Munster, considering a game can be played at the Showgrounds in the 24 hours after torrential rain. As a result of its impressive surface - and location - Fermoy RFC often hosts the Munster junior squad, women's and academy squads for regular training sessions and for matches.

Attached to the clubhouse are five dressing rooms but the club still has plans to develop further. Currently, they are at the maintenance phase and are very grateful for sponsorship received from local businesses - McCarthy Insurance Group are club sponsors - as well as a lot of community support for the club lotto, fun runs, table quizzes, and ticket sales, that helps contribute to the day to day expenditure.

Down the line the aim of the club and its members is to build a function room to host such events, while the big target is the development of a stand at their home ground.

Competing at Division 3 level in the Junior 1 League, a new squad is currently rebuilding following a recent dramatic drop in player numbers through retirements, emigration and educational relocations. A number of players are returning and some new players are stepping up, which will facilitate the fielding of two junior teams this season.

The successful U-19 team of five years ago disbanded for the reasons above but are now returning to their home club, which will be managed this year by Barry Richards. Fermoy's new head coach will be Robby Doyle, a former Munster junior player himself and a player/coach of several years' experience including at senior level. He will be supported by Mick Lacey and Pat Sweeney in a strong backroom team.

The club is proud of its status as a rugby nursery over the years where they have moulded a large number of players who have progressed to play with senior AIL teams in all divisions. They have also prepared players to wear the Munster and Ireland Schoolboy jerseys, and full representative jerseys.

Tribute

Fermoy RFC recently welcomed back one of their own, when Irish international and Six Nations hero Mike Ross visited the club to an enthusiastic reception. On the day Mike paid tribute to the club and its volunteers, who forged his way into the game from a young age.

Roy Buttimer and Michael Lyons, (Leah's Lyons' dad), launched the girls' rugby programme at U-16, and under the guidance of Roy, Paddy Kelly and Mick Lynch, the women's game at Fermoy has had phenomenal growth over the last number of years, progressing from the development league to competing in AIL rugby.

Everyone involved in Fermoy RFC are very proud of Leah Lyons and are honoured that one of their protégées has made it to the pinnacle of women's rugby. It was a real pleasure to watch Leah during the Six Nations success and the Women's Rugby World Cup.

With 140 boys and girls involved in Fermoy's mini section and fielding three youth teams at U-14, 16 and 18 age grade, the development of underage rugby has been recognised as a primary focus for Fermoy's growth.

Clearly underage rugby is a key element for Fermoy RFC's future success. Numbers have visibly increased year on year, largely due to the impressive coaching structures and the forward thinking of those involved in the club. There's plenty of competition for sport in this town, so they are well aware of the need to be very proactive in recruiting young players with a long-term objective of feeding those players into the adult team.

With an eye to swelling their future playing numbers, the club approached the local secondary schools about introducing rugby to their playing fields. This has proved an excellent experiment and an annual competition is now held for the Martin Duggan Memorial Trophy.

As a J3 club, the eventual aim is to reach Division 1 of the junior league, but an achievement like that doesn't happen overnight. At all levels, the work is being put in to try and achieve that aim.

Irish Independent

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