Leesiders confident their youth will flourish
Not just a CBC spin-off, Corkmen are breaking new ground with underage and women’s game, writes Ciarán McGreal
Old Christians RFC was founded in 1955 to enable past pupils of Christian Brothers College to continue playing the sport they loved.
Once upon a time it was literally 'an old boys club', but those days are in the past, which president Peter Marnell is quick to point out - Christians now have an open door policy that means that no matter what school you went to, they want you to line out for them.
"It was all ex-pupils of Christian Brothers College and they wanted to continue playing rugby and have their own club," Marnell says.
"It was exclusively for pupils of Christians school up until sometime in the '70s, maybe earlier. I played in the first underage team back in 1975.
"It's open to all now. No club would be able to rely just on past pupils so then it expanded."
The club's senior side play in the Munster Junior League Division 1, where their youthful team have endured a tough season.
Matt Marnell's charges have lost all nine of their league games to date but the coach's brother, president Marnell, notes that the team are young and that the jump from underage level to junior rugby is tough.
"We've got a very, very young side," he says. "They're an exceptionally young side this season. We finished one game a while back with seven 18-year-olds on the pitch.
"Division 1 of the Munster Junior League is a hard league. A lot of clubs have ex-AIL players playing. We have a lot of very young lads.
"Fellas playing for us in the league have come straight from underage last season and there's no similarity between the Munster Junior League Division 1 and U-18.
"These lads have the technical skills but it's learning the game and having a bit of cuteness is where we've struggled.
"We're probably destined for Division 2 but we'll consolidate and we'll bring through a few more young lads and we'll start again. We'll hopefully hang onto the fellas we have."
Marnell hopes that if the club are relegated, they will be able to get back to winning ways; he also feels that the league table doesn't tell the whole story of Christians' season.
"The standard won't be as good and we're less likely to get beaten as often (in Division 2)," he argues. "If we get a winning team it might be easier to keep them together.
"The table tells its own story but some of those losses were heartbreaking. Some of them were lost with the last kick of the game.
"Again, that little bit of cuteness to close the game out. Some fella might try something but we're learning at least."
The club's underage set-up begins at U-7 and the minis section runs up as far as U-12s with approximately 130 children involved with the minis.
At youth level the club fields teams at U-13, U-14, U-16 and U-18 level, and since the 2014/15 season, Old Christians have been catering for girls.
"We don't have enough to field a full girls' teams but we have 23 girls," explains Marnell. "They're aged from eight to 17.
"There's a South Cork amalgamation for girls rugby. Last season they were teaming up with Highfield and Midleton and between the couple of clubs, they would have enough to field an U-18 girls team.
"Very often they were going to Carrick-on-Suir and these places to play matches. They train on Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings. They're hoping to go to a Women's World Cup match and try and generate a bit more interest."
Old Christians have produced a number of notable players down through the years.
Former Ireland captain Donal Lenihan went onto represent the Lions on three tours. The second-row won 52 caps for Ireland and played in both the 1987 and 1991 World Cup.
David Corkery is another former Irish international who played for the Cork club. The flanker won 27 caps , playing in the 1995 and '99 World Cups.
Former Munster No 8 James Coughlan started playing with Old Christians in their minis section. He went on to play for Dolphin and made his Munster debut in 2006.
One of Coughlan's finest hours in a Munster jersey was when he captained the province to a famous 15-6 win over Australia in 2010. Since leaving Munster in 2014 Coughlan has been plying his trade with French side Pau, alongside former Munster players Sean Dougall and Paddy Butler.
Like all Cork clubs, Old Christians share a player pool with the local GAA and soccer clubs but Marnell feels the relationships between the various sports are strong.
"We really feel a connection to the local community," he says. "We have a lot of young lads who play with Sarsfields. They're a huge club. We have guys that play with Sars in the summer and then for the winter they'll come up to us to play rugby.
"Then there's Glanmire football and Mayfield soccer. Younger fellas especially are involved in lots of other stuff. Some of them are playing two or three other sports.
"We don't see ourselves in competition with other clubs, especially not in the younger age-groups. They find their niche and continue with the sport they like the most. We all did that when we were younger."
All rugby clubs in the country rely heavily on dedicated volunteers and Marnell pays tribute to the club's Ladies Committee.
"They provide food post match for all teams, hold raffles, organise Christmas and Easter events for the minis and run our cafe on match days," he says. "They are most welcoming. They really are stars."
OLD CHRISTIANS FACTFILE
Address: Ballincrossig, Rathcooney, Glanmire, Co Cork
President: Peter Marnell
Head coach: Matt Marnell
Captain: Aidan Ware