Sunday 25 June 2017

Magnificent oldies keep on finding pots of gold

Club focus: Limerick Leprechauns

Limerick leprechauns celebrating Munster’s 2008 Heineken Cup victory playing in Kilkee
Limerick leprechauns celebrating Munster’s 2008 Heineken Cup victory playing in Kilkee

sDaragh Small

The Limerick Leprechauns might not be the first name of everyone's lips when you think of club rugby in the province, but their brilliant work has affected so many lives.

Right at the heart of that is Mike O'Loughlin, and the former president and now vice-president says he loves turning out for the Leprechauns and doing what he can for charity.

The team was set up in 1984 and since then it has tapped into the fantastic tradition that is Limerick club rugby, and gone about raising massive amounts of money for non-Government-funded local charities and good causes with an emphasis on children with special needs.

Players such as current Leprechauns president Sonny Kiely, Gerry McLoughlin, Peter Clohessy, Harry Harbison, Brian Spillane, Des Clohessy, Ken Rennison, Pako Fitzgerald and Mick Galwey have all lined out in the famous multi-coloured jersey over the years.

And Dooradoyle native O'Loughlin, who is also head coach of the Leprechauns, says the only rule is that the players are over 35 - everything else goes.

"It's very relaxed because it's a scratch team like an old-fashioned game of rugby where there is nothing pre-planned.

"We contact the players by text, and emails and social media. Anybody who turns up on the day gets a game," says O'Loughlin.

"Strictly over 35, and obviously an ex-player. The oldest guy who played for us was against London Irish, he was affiliated to London Irish but he lives in Ireland and he is 82 years old. We don't tackle those guys. He played in the second-row.

Supporter

"Down through the years we have had some very good players as well. Gerry McLoughlin is very involved, a regular speaker after matches. Peter Clohessy has togged out with us, and Len Dineen is a great supporter of us, and played as well.

"We played a London Irish side a couple of months ago and two weeks ago we played a team from Lyon, the Old Blacks from Lyon. They have another veteran team.

"We had a pretty big circle of teams that we have played down through the years. I have been involved in teams against Leicester, and Stade Francais. We have travelled abroad to play in overseas tournaments also."

Larry Breen (Garryowen), Michael O'Flaherty (Young Munster), Johnsey Maloney (Old Crescent) and Mike Ryan (Shannon) all contributed to the foundation of the club.

The idea was hatched in Myles Breen's Pub on Shannon Street and coincided with the centenary celebrations of Shannon and Garryowen.

But nobody could have foreseen the massive success the Leprechauns would turn out to be, and that is due to the former players and their willingness to help out for the betterment of the Limerick community.

"Normally we have a fixture every couple of years against the Gardaí and often different clubs, like Garryowen, have a veteran side. We have an annual fixture on St Stephen's Day. We normally rotate it between St Mary's and Shannon. Last year we played St Mary's in Limerick," adds O'Loughlin.

"The money was raised for Pieta House. I think we raised about €3,500 for them. Even our jerseys are very distinctive because we have every colour from Limerick and the surrounding area."

The Leprechauns have endeavoured to help all corners of society with Bawnmore, Milford Hospice, Limerick School for the Deaf Children, Parents and Friends of the Mentally Handicapped, Alzheimer's Society, Samaritans, CARI, Marine Search and Rescue, and the Down Syndrome Society all profiting from their fundraising.

The Leprechauns have played a wide range of teams too including against Limerick Garda under lights in Thomond Park, The Welsh Crawshaws RFC, Irish Defence Forces, London Irish RFC, Sparta Prague RFC, East Sussex Police RFC, New York Athletic Club, Heidelberg RFC, Stade Francais, Leicester Tigers, Belfast Perennials RFC, and their annual fixtures with the Kilkee Fallen Stars on the beach in Kilkee and their St Stephen's Day fixture.

It's another wonderful story emanating from the rugby ranks where the community always play a massive role in the stories behind each club.

Rugby in Limerick has suffered a huge blow this year with the loss of Munster and Ireland great Anthony Foley, but the way the community came together and rallied around on such a tough occasion spoke volumes about rugby in the county and city.

The Limerick Leprechauns embody all that's good about Munster Rugby and the clubs that feed into it, and Mike O'Loughlin and his helpers will continue to push for extra funds which are channelled right back into the community where they are needed most.

"I am a former president and I do the fixtures separately and the owner, trainer and jockey kind of. But everyone helps out and it's just a bit of fun at the end of the day," says O'Loughlin.

"We draw players from Limerick, and other places in north Munster, and it's all in the name of helping those who are most in need in the charities.

"It's all so unique. It all started about 35 years ago. A group of guys that were at the end of their playing careers got together and decided to have a charity game. A game to raise funds for charity.

"There was no real emphasis on veteran rugby at the time. But they got everybody together, who would normally know each other from playing against each other. They all got together on the one team to raise money for charity.

"It all started from that. And it's still going strong, it started off in 1984, 33 years ago, and since then we have raised over €300,000 for charities. We help other charities to raise money by staging charity games. We also entertain teams from overseas and from different parts of the country.

"And we have a great relationship with a team in Belfast called the Perennials who are the same as ourselves, but five years younger. There is a few teams around the country like us."

Irish Independent

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