Saturday 27 May 2017

Highfield tap into spirit of '66 heroes

Club Focus: Highfield RFC

Highfield senior mens team
Highfield senior mens team
Performing a guard of honour

Ciarán McGreal

Next Saturday Highfield RFC will mark the 50th anniversary of their first Munster Senior Cup victory.

The Cork-based club won the competition in 1966, defeating UCC in the final and on November 12, the players from that cup-winning squad will be honoured at a celebratory lunch in Highfield's clubhouse to mark the five decades since the triumph. The club won the Senior Cup for a second time in 1968 but have not won it since.

President Fergus O'Mahony is looking forward to the event and said their maiden cup win was a hugely significant event in their history.

"It's very important to mark it. Our history is very important to us. We played in the Senior Cup final in 1958 for the first time and then we knocked on the door for a couple of years before making the breakthrough in the 1965/'66 season which was fantastic.

"Guys like Bunty Ormond, Joe McDonald, Tony Loughrey and Toby O'Brien played a huge part in that," says O'Mahony.

The club bought its current grounds from a local farmer in 1942 and the Cork outfit have been based at Woodleigh Park ever since. The purchase of this land was a crucial moment in the club's history and Highfield dominated junior rugby before securing senior status in the 1952/'53 season.

The cup exploits in the 1960s followed and Highfield RFC have also had a number of Irish internationals over the years. Charlie Teehan was the club's first international in 1939 when he was capped against England.

Rejoined

Sean Quinlan won four caps from 1956 and 1958, while Mick Leahy was capped in the 1960s. Terry Moore won 12 caps from 1967 to 1974 and Paul Collins won three caps after making his debut against Canada in 1987.

More recently, Munster loosehead prop James Cronin has rejoined the club having played his underage rugby with Highfield. The Cork native made his Munster debut in April 2013 as a replacement against Leinster in the Pro12. Cronin was named in the Irish squad for the tour to Argentina in 2014 and made his debut off the bench in the second Test. To date, the Munster man has won two further caps as a replacement against Italy in 2015 and France in 2016. He also won the 2015 World Rugby Tbilisi Cup with the Emerging Ireland squad as Allen Clarke's men defeated Italy, Uruguay and Georgia in the tournament.

Munster legend Donncha O'Callaghan also has links with Highfield. The 94-cap Irish international played underage rugby with Highfield before moving on to play with Cork Constitution. O'Callaghan partnered Paul O'Connell in the second-row in Munster's 2006 and 2008 Heineken Cup final victories and toured with the British & Irish Lions in 2005 and 2009. The lock now plays his rugby with Worcester Warriors in England.

Highfield's senior side play in the Ulster Bank League Division 2A after securing promotion from Division 2B last season. It was a tight affair, but they eventually edged out Sunday's Well on points difference to clinch automatic promotion after a resounding 59-7 win over Bective Rangers on the last day of the season.

This time round, Highfield have had an unbeaten start to life in Division 2A, winning two and drawing three of their games. They opened the season with a narrow 16-13 win at home to Queen's University before two draws against Malone and Nenagh Ormond respectively. The club got back to winning ways the following round with a comprehensive 29-9 victory away to Corinthians.

A draw against Sunday's Well last Friday followed and this Saturday, Timmy Ryan's charges face a trip to Blackrock College. The club's next home game is on November 12 against Belfast Harlequins which will take place after the celebratory lunch for the 1966 cup side.

Coach Ryan played underage rugby with Highfield before going on to represent Munster and Toulon at professional level. Highfield captain Paddy O'Toole was named the Ulster Bank League Division 2B Player of the Year last season as the out-half played a crucial role as the club secured promotion to Division 2A.

The senior team's exploits help to boost the morale of the club but O'Mahony was quick to note that the senior team haven't let success go to their heads.

"It filters down hugely but the senior team aren't up on pedestals," says O'Mahony.

"We played a seconds' match on Sunday and 75 per cent of the senior team were there watching. That's the kind of culture we've created and that's important."

Highfield's ladies' team play in the Women's All-Ireland League Division 1 and had two representatives in the recent Ireland women's squad. Ireland women's head coach Tom Tierney named a training squad last week and Highfield's Zoe Grattage and Leah Lyons were two of ten Munster-based players in the squad.

Highfield's minis rugby runs from U-6s to U-12s while the youth rugby section of the club fields teams at U-14, U-16 and U-18 level and the club also operate an U-20s team. O'Mahony noted that many clubs are struggling for playing numbers but the president feels Highfield are in a good place due to the commitment of its coaches and members.

"We've catered for rugby in the western part of the city for many years. I think we've contributed quite a lot to rugby, especially since we're the only club in the western part of Cork city.

"Clubs are struggling to produce players and field teams but we're lucky that we have a lot of very good guys involved, good coaches, good management, a good structure. We're capable of producing sides but it's taking a lot of hard work.

"We're very much capable of putting out four adult sides at weekends plus a ladies' side and that's very encouraging. Lots of clubs aren't capable of doing that at this point in time."

Highfield RFC

Address: Woodleigh Park, Cork

Founded: 1930

Head coach: Timmy Ryan

Captain: Paddy O'Toole

Web: www.highfieldrfc.ie

Twitter: @HighfieldRFC

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