Junior gong just reward for season of unrivalled success
Munster Rugby's Junior Club of the Year Clonmel RFC enjoyed a season of unprecedented success that saw the men's and women's teams dominate Munster junior rugby.
The men's side, coached by former Munster player Denis Leamy, won Division 1 of the Munster Junior League for the first time in the club's 123-year history and followed that up with another win in the Munster Junior Clubs Cup.
Their second team won the Dave Dineen Cup and the women's side did the double, winning Division 1 of the Munster League and the Munster Cup. An incredible season ended with a rare defeat for the men's side in the replayed Munster Junior Cup final last weekend at Irish Independent Park as Shannon prevented the Tipperary club from retaining the trophy.
The club will be competing in Division 1 again next season after losing out to Dundalk in the All-Ireland Provincial League Championship play-offs last month.
Club PRO Paul Condon is naturally delighted with how things are going at the club.
"Winning the Munster Junior Cup for the first time last year and the Munster Junior League for the first time this year, on top of the Munster Junior Clubs Cup and the Dave Dineen Cup, has been a phenomenal haul," he says.
"It really has been fantastic and I think when you add on to that how successful the women's team were, winning both the Division 1 league and Cup in a tough season, it has been fantastic.
"To crown it all was the Munster Rugby Junior Club of the Year Award because that is recognition of what we do, so it's been a brilliant season."
Condon also hails the hard work that has been done behind the scenes at the club for many years.
"Over the years there has been a very strong commitment by committees to develop the infrastructure. That has been an investment that people have been prepared to make over the years.
"Bringing in someone of Denis Leamy's calibre as coach has elevated the performance on the field over the last couple of years. Winning the cup last year and the league this year, both for the very first time, has been huge for us.
"Denis' leadership is hugely important - this was his second season in charge and he has delighted us by committing to a third year so that's hugely positive as we can continue on our journey.
"We came second to Dundalk in the play-offs, we beat the Ulster champions and the Connacht champions and we'll put ourselves right back up there to challenge next year."
With the high profile attached to the phenomenal recent successes of women's rugby in Ireland, the Clonmel ladies' team is back on track after a few dormant years.
"It's been a bit of a rollercoaster with the women's team" says Condon. "If you go back a couple of years, we had an extremely strong women's team with players like Niamh Briggs, Jean Lonergan and Katie O'Loughlin all playing at international level.
"This year we took stock a little bit and laid out a development plan to get us back on track in terms of bolstering numbers and making sure that we were giving ourselves the best possible opportunity to fulfil our fixtures.
"We've come through a fantastic season having won the league against tough opposition in the province and then more recently crowning it with the win in the Munster Cup.
"To get the two, side-by-side with the success of the men's team has just been fantastic for everybody."
Operating today from the fringes of the town centre, Clonmel's Ard Gaoithe ground boasts three playing pitches, a training pitch, all-weather pitches available for hire, a modern seated patrons' stand, dressing-rooms, gymnasium and a friendly club house.
With a thriving underage section, Condon is confident that the success of the club will continue for many seasons.
"There's a buzz around the club because we've got such a developed underage structure in the youths and the minis. It kind of transcends the whole club and I think it has a feel-good factor in the town so it actually goes beyond the boundary of the club and everybody benefits," he says.
"We're very fortunate, virtually all of the squad have come through the home-grown ranks. Nearly everyone has come through either the local club structure of the local school structure so that lends itself to a very solid foundation.
"We will continue to nurture and develop that and will continue to feed the senior ranks. Even our firsts today, the age profile is actually quite young so they're hopefully around for the long haul and we've a good feeder mechanism in place to cultivate it, which is great."