Open door policy sees west Cork club grow
Club focus: Bandon RFC
It has taken 131 years, but Bandon RFC are finally celebrating their second Munster Cup victory. This year it's the turn of the 2017 juniors to be feted, as they join the 1886 senior team in the winners' enclosure.
Last weekend's 27-14 win over Young Munster is a significant event in the club's proud history, but according to club president Ricky O'Sullivan it has been a series of ups and downs to get to this juncture.
"While we were the first winners of the Munster Senior Cup, we have been clawing away trying to win the Junior Cup since it was established in 1909," said O'Sullivan.
"Over the years we had peaks and troughs. We won the First Division back in the 1990s, but as recently as three years ago we were a Second Division team.
"Maybe it's a coincidence that the man who reformed the club after the Second World War, John 'Doc' O'Driscoll, passed away in September. Then for us to go on and win the Junior Cup, something that was the Holy Grail for him and all of us, is an amazing achievement."
Some excellent groundwork has gone in over the years at the club, but the real catalyst was the improvement of Bandon's underage structure. Under the leadership of Gary McCormick, the structures introduced 10 or 12 years ago are now paying off.
"We have over 300 underage boys here every Saturday morning. Combine that work with the foresight to move from togging out in the back of a pub and playing on a rented pitch, to developing our own four pitches and a pavilion - then we started to have some success at underage," said O'Sullivan.
"We won the All-Ireland U-19 about four years ago and those lads are the mainstay of the junior team's win last week.
"We used that U-19s team as the foundation for our recovery, but then we have lads like Kevin Lucey at 35 in the team too. He has won two football titles with Bandon in the last 18 months and now a Junior Cup as well."
O'Sullivan said the win Bandon claimed at Thomond Park last weekend has given everyone involved with the club a real lift, but none of that would have been possible without the considerable volunteer effort that has been put in by parents and locals, he acknowledged.
"We want to show people that we are a sports club and that the door is open for you here. You are just as welcome here if you make sandwiches or paint walls or play for the team on a Saturday.
"Volunteer hours is a huge thing for us. That's the heartbeat of the club. Everyone who has kids in here tries to give a few hours of their time - we definitely don't turn down a bit of help. You might not be a coach, but everyone can help at fundraising or organising something.
"As we said to the lads at the weekend, the victory is theirs, but they need to realise that there is plenty of people in every club that keep the show on the road.
"We have a lady called Geraldine O'Donovan who was at every training session and match doing the video work. Her son used to play underage with us and she's there no matter what the weather. The win is for her as much as anyone."
At the heart of the club is a willingness to spread their wings further into the community and touch families and townlands that might never have been associated with the club.
One of the mottos in Bandon RFC right now is '#oneclubonecommunity', an ethos that is being encouraged, along with an open-door policy.
A link-up with Bandon Grammar School saw former Toulouse flanker Regis Sonnes join as coach at the school and the club.
O'Sullivan thinks forward-thinking like that is the best way to progress.
"We sat down last year with the Grammar School with a view to taking things to the next level and they were keen on the partnership.
"We brought in Regis and he has developed their rugby structures within the school. He coaches kids by day and men by night.
"There was always rugby played in the school, and before we had our own underage section up and running they were the mainstay of the club.
"But now we attract students from the primary schools before they go near secondary. That has allowed us to get a good identity within the town and its surroundings. We are not confined by parish boundaries either.
"A lot of people would have said to me that they'd love to have played rugby, but never got the chance. So for the last two years we've had a youth development officer, and he goes to 15 different primary schools within a 10-mile radius of the town.
"He goes in once a week and they play a bit of tag. The schools have been hugely welcoming and then we invite them in to the club for a tag blitz at the start of April. A couple of weeks ago we had 600 children in for the day, plus their teachers and parents. It is one of the highlights of our year now."
While the Junior Cup win is a magical victory, O'Sullivan says chasing the senior dream is far from the top of their to-do list.
"Winning the Junior Cup was one goal, but you have to win the league first before you think about going senior. It's 1993/94 since we did that.
"We have an underage section, a ladies section and an adult team and they can all live in their own silo if you let them. You have to knock that down: we are all one club.
"The next priority for us is the girls. There is 100 girls playing rugby in Bandon at schools, but we need volunteers to help us start an underage ladies section. The interest is there from the girls, but we need the community to row in.
"We have the facilities, but we need parents and volunteers to help us. We just have to find them because the girls want to play the game. That's a bigger priority than making the step up to senior."