Wednesday 20 September 2017

Promoting from within the key for progressive club's hopes

Club Focus - Abbeyfeale

The Abbeyfeale girls team at last year’s IRFU All-Ireland Under 10’s And Under 12’s Mini Festival
The Abbeyfeale girls team at last year’s IRFU All-Ireland Under 10’s And Under 12’s Mini Festival

The Abbeyfeale RFC men's side compete in Division Two of the Munster Junior League with the club boasting a thriving underage structure and a vibrant ladies' section.

The adult side won promotion as champions of Division Three last season and have adapted very well to the higher division and look set for a top-half finish as the season nears completion.

There are over 180 players in the mini and underage section with girls' teams at U-13, U-15 and U-18 level and a senior ladies team playing in the Munster development league.

Abbeyfeale RFC was founded in 1959 and hit the ground running in their first full season as they overcame several Kerry teams to progress to the semi-final of the Munster Junior Cup.

The Co Limerick club enjoyed a golden period in the mid-1960s and in 1964 lifted their first Munster Junior Cup in Thomond Park after a final win over Nenagh Ormond.

A week after that monumental success, they captured their second trophy by defeating Bandon in the Cork County Cup final and retained that trophy the following year.

Joyful scenes were witnessed again in 1966, when they captured their second Munster Junior Cup in three years by again defeating Nenagh Ormond in Thomond Park.

The progressive Abbeyfeale RFC became the first rugby club to have a female president when Betty O'Mahony succeeded her late husband George in the role in 1972. Betty brought great energy, dynamism and charisma to the club in her 21 years as president.

Twenty-eight-cap former Irish international Philip Danaher hails from Abbeyfeale and played underage with the club. Abbeyfeale native Seamus Dennison was part of the Munster side that beat the All Blacks in 1978 and it was his famous tackle on Stu Wilson that was immortalised in the recent Guinness advert.

Eamonn Foley joined the club as an underage player 32 years ago and is now the assistant coach to the junior team.

"This season has been pretty good because we have a very young team - the average age is around 24 - and none of the guys would have played Division Two rugby before," says Foley.

ACHIEVEMENT

"It was an achievement in itself not getting involved in a relegation dogfight and if we win our final two games we could finish as high as fourth so that would be a huge achievement.

"So far this year we've used 37 players and every one of those players played youths rugby for the club. We don't have a big influx of people coming into the town to work so if we don't promote the rugby at the youths' section we wouldn't have any players."

John Moloney is the director of women's rugby at Abbeyfeale RFC and started the ladies' section eight years ago.

"It's going from strength to strength," says Moloney. "There are around 88 girls playing rugby in Abbeyfeale from sixth class to senior level. We have girls playing for Munster at U-18 level and in the seniors.

"The women's team are in the Munster Development League and have won every match this season," he adds.

The club place a huge emphasis on the underage boys and girls section with nearly every single senior player at the club having come through the mini and underage section.

Redmond Quigley coaches the club's U-12s with over 100 boys and girls at mini rugby training in the club every Sunday morning.

"We lose a lot from competing with the GAA and soccer but we have good numbers," says Quigley. "But we work with the GAA in that we finish after St Patrick's Day and the football will start. It's the same when they finish, we start so we work it that way because most of the kids, mine included, will play football and rugby.

OVERNIGHT

"For the past couple of years we've taken the U-10s and 11s to an overnight camp-out in Athy RFC. They get to play new teams from around the area and we find that it's a great bonding trip for the kids.

"This year we're bringing the U-13s and 14s to Scotland. We'll be playing a couple of teams in Scotland and bringing the lads to the Ireland v Scotland Six Nations game in Murrayfield. We've been fundraising for the last five months, it's been a tough old slog but we have it all organised now.

"We have the funds more or less collected through clothes collections, raffles, donkey derbies and we did a gate collection outside Thomond Park on St Stephen's Day, so a lot of effort went in to putting it together.

"Last year the U-11s played at half-time during the Treviso game against Estuary and you could imagine the build-up to that! They got all the new gear and there was major excitement. It was played under the lights and they won which made it even better."

Irish Independent

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