Saturday 21 October 2017

Kilfeacle: A rural club at the heart of a District

Club focus: Kilfeacle and District

The Kilfeacle side that won this season’s Munster Junior Challenge Cup final
The Kilfeacle side that won this season’s Munster Junior Challenge Cup final
Munster players form a huddle during training. Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Rooney

Situated four miles from Tipperary Town in the direction of Cashel, Kilfeacle and District RFC borders a couple of Tipperary heavyweights, but since their birth in 1981 they have fought hard to carve out their own place in the game.

It is 36 years since the club split with Clanwilliam, which resulted in a new club being formed in close proximity, and since then the differences have been put behind the respective clubs. But with the near neighbours both battling it out in Division 1 of the Munster Junior League, there is still a healthy rivalry there.

Johnny Luby is a former president of Kilfeacle and District and he freely admits it would kill him to shout for the Tipp town club if they got to a Junior Cup final, but he knows too that it is that local passion for the game that keeps people coming back.

"The club was founded in 1981 after a breakaway from Clanwilliam. They came out the road and set up Kilfeacle and District, and since then they have won every honour in the game.

"The derby with Clanwilliam is a huge game every year. It's like Celtic and Rangers, or Tipp and Cork in the hurling. It's huge. All that's at stake is bragging rights, but that's hugely important to be able to hold out your chest when you go into the town.

"Our club colours are sky blue and navy, which was chosen by a member, Mrs Cooney, who is Jeremy Staunton's grandmother.

Devotion

 "She had a big devotion in the Blessed Virgin, so she said the colours were going to be sky blue and navy. They are far from being a holy team, but the colours have brought fierce luck over the years too."

According to Luby, the most important part of the club name is 'and District', which he says caters for the diversity in area codes that players are drawn from.

"The District is the most important part I think. In my book, our district could stretch to the Aran Islands. If we could get a player from Aran he could be playing with Kilfeacle. There is no limits there.

"We have six or seven lads from the Golden/Kilfeacle area, another four or five from Tipperary Town, a few more from Oola, Banshagh, Knockavilla Kickhams, Clonoulty and Cappawhite. They are all good hurling areas and we get a player or two from each parish, which is marvellous."

Everyone involved in 'The Hill', as they are affectionately known, is bitten hard by the rugby bug, Luby says, and he thinks it all starts at the young age when under sixes are introduced to training for the first time.

In a region with so many sporting options, Luby says it is a real thrill to see new players arriving for their rugby education.

"It is a wonderful club to be associated with. What gives me the greatest thrill is to see a youngsters at the age of six pulling on a Kilfeacle jersey for the first time. You'd be hoping that you'd be around to see them playing at 26.

"They could have gone elsewhere to Galbally, Clanwilliam or Cashel, but when the come to 'The Hill', I say, 'Thanks very much' to the parents for bringing them here. It is wonderful to see the boys and girls playing away at that age."

There has been plenty of tough days following Kilfeacle and District over the years, but perhaps their greatest moment came in 2002 when they defeated Crosshaven to claim their one and only Munster Junior Cup success. Over the years they have been one of the most consistent teams in Division 1 of the league - only their 13th-place finish of 2012 saw them finish outside the top eight in the last eight seasons.

And Luby is very proud that Kilfeacle and District have remained a Division 1 club since the league's inception. But he is prouder still of this season's victory in the Munster Junior Challenge Cup final over Bandon.

"Winning below in Charleville and finishing fourth in the league was a big thing this year. They are a very young team at the moment and we'd be hoping that they might be able to pick up another cup or two in the next couple of seasons.

"We beat Bandon in the league, then we played them in the Junior Cup and, according to the experts, it was supposed to be the game of the season, but Bandon beat them and then went all the way. Heartiest congratulations to them.

"Then on a wet day beyond in Charleville we beat them in the final of the Munster Challenge Cup. Our guys got stuck in from the start and won it by the five points. People came out of the woodwork to support us in the final, and I think it took us a couple of days to recover!

"Our biggest target every year is to stay in Division 1. Personally, I don't think we'd be able to compete at senior level - we wouldn't have a huge panel and if can survive away in Division 1 and maybe pick up a cup here and there would be great. The ambition is to win the league at some stage and then see what happens after that."

As with all amateur clubs, it is the volunteers and sponsors that keep the show on the road. Johnny paid particular tribute to club secretary, Michelle Noonan. "The club would fold up only for her," he says. He was also keen to thanks Patsy Burke and Burke Brothers in London for their sponsorship over the years and Lowry's Bar in Tipperary Town for their kind support.

"Winning the All-Ireland U-18 was a huge thing for a club out in the middle of no place where there is not even a shop or a school. The club has survived due to the goodwill of sponsors and supporters.

"Seven years ago we raised €16,500 for the Irish Cancer Society, which was incredible. Those are tremendous achievements and that's down to the goodwill of the people around. Any time we can raise a few bob for a charity we are happy. It might only be €100, but so be it, it's all welcome.

"It is a real community effort here and it's a great club to be involved with. It's very much family-orientated and a family-run club."

Irish Independent

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