Sunday 23 July 2017

Spreading the rugby word right across Clare

Attracting players from every corner of the county is a core philosophy, as is youth development

The Ennis RFC senior XV get their defensive line in order against Charleville RFC. Photo: Helen McQuillan
The Ennis RFC senior XV get their defensive line in order against Charleville RFC. Photo: Helen McQuillan
The next generation. The Ennis RFC U-10s are shown the ropes last weekend. Photo: Helen McQuillan

Ciarán McGreal

As is the case with many big towns around the country, the stand-alone rugby club that sprung up proved to be a magnet for keen sportsmen from around the county.

Ennis RFC will be celebrating their centenary year in 2023 and for as long as anyone can remember, the club has drawn its players from all over the county of Clare.

Years ago, for someone from the rugged Atlantic coast of west Clare, it must have been some commitment to travel in and out to Ennis to play rugby.

Tradition

But it was those kind of people who kept the tradition alive, and current head coach Richie Murphy, paid tribute to the people of Clare who have travelled to Ennis to play with the club.

"We draw a lot of players down from North Clare. Ennistymon, Lahinch, Milltown, up around that area. They come from West Clare, East Clare," says Murphy.

"As rugby increased in popularity we saw a big increase in people from non-traditional rugby areas coming in. They make a big commitment to travel in and out to us. We're all the better for it as a club," explains Murphy.

The club disbanded in 1939 on account of World War II but was reformed in 1952. The clubhouse was built in 1979 after land was purchased from the Ennis Showgrounds.

The club has one pitch of its own as well as second pitch which it rents from the Clare County Council. They also rent training pitches from their neighbours in the Clare Show Society.

The club's underage structure was set up in 1973 and there are currently over 400 players involved from U-7s to U-18s.

Ennis had two representatives on the Munster U-18 squad this year in Iken Ugwueru and Aaron Hennessey.

Munster won the inter-provincial series defeating Ulster, Leinster and Connacht.

Ugwueru scored a try against both Leinster and Connacht while Hennessey played in the front-row.

The Ennis senior team play in Munster Junior League Division 2; they got their season up and running with a 14-10 win over Charleville at home last Sunday.

The team had lost its first game 30-9 away to Youghal but the win over Charleville will give the club confidence heading into their trip to Crosshaven this weekend.

Murphy is in his second stint as head coach after previously holding the reins from 2002-10.

Reprieve

Ennis were relegated to Division 3 of the Munster Junior League last season but they got a reprieve after Tipperary side Newport RFC pulled out of Division 2.

Murphy wants his charges to stay up off their own steam this season.

"Better to be in it trying to stay in it than to be outside trying to get into it! We'll try to end up with more wins than losses this year and try and consolidate," he says.

"We have a strong batch of underage players due to come through in the next two to three years.

"We want to be playing at the highest level as possible so that we're an attractive proposition for them to stay around and play a bit of ball with us.

The club's bid to stay in Division 2 received a boost in pre-season as Joe Moloney rejoined the club after a two-year spell with UL Bohemians in the Ulster Bank League. The hooker captains Ennis, a club with whom he's been involved since U-16 level.

Many of Ennis' underage players move away for college to places like Galway, Limerick and Cork but head coach Murphy spoke about the academy system that the club has in place to keep the younger players involved.

"A couple of years back we set up an academy to target guys who had just finished underage rugby to try and help them transition to adult rugby," he explains.

"It's a big step up physically. It's a two-year programme and we have a couple of professional strength and conditioning coaches in the club.

"They look after these kids to help bring them through. They build up their physical capabilities so that they can come out and be confident that they'll be okay playing adult rugby. That's been a big success.

"We've transitioned six guys through in the two years it's been running. We'll bring another three guys on board this year.

"It's a big help because it's a big transition to go from knocking around with your peers to meeting a grizzled old warrior who's been down the highways and byways!

"When they do get hit, they need to be able to ride it.

That's been a success and it's been a good initiative so we're going to keep investing in that and hopefully it'll keep a steady stream of guys coming through to us."

A notable player from Ennis is Aidan Considine. He was on the Irish squad - alongside Brian O'Driscoll - that won the U-19 World Championship in 1998.

In fact, Considine came on as a replacement for O'Driscoll in the semi-final victory over Argentina.

Declan Kidney was in charge of the team, and other notable names in the squad were former Munster second-row Donncha O'Callaghan and former Ulster star Paddy Wallace.

The Irish side defeated hosts France 18-0 in the final that year.

Ennis were named Munster Junior Club of the Year in 2011 and while the club is located in what is traditionally a hurling county, coach Murphy stressed that the club welcome players from all sporting backgrounds.

"There is a crossover, particularly at underage. What we find is that the GAA season seems to be getting longer and longer!" he laughs.

"But our doors are open. We'll do what we do and get teams out onto the pitch."

ENNIS RFC

Address: Drumbiggle Rd, Ennis, Co Clare

Club founded: 1923

President: Michael Corey

Head coach: Richie Murphy

Captain: Joe Moloney

Website: http://www.ennisrfc.ie/

Irish Independent

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