'The club is growing in all directions right now'
Club focus: Thurles RFC
Sometimes it takes a setback or tragedy to remind you how important a club is to people, but when former players and supporters from decades ago joined together recently to remember Bobby O'Brien, there was no doubting the importance of Thurles RFC to them all.
Bobby was a cornerstone of the Tipperary club for years where he served as Honorary Secretary for 38 years, and also served in various roles on the Munster Junior Committee, but he passed away aged 80 at the end of February.
All club games scheduled for that weekend were postponed including the juniors' Challenge Plate final against Kinsale, but according to club president, Tadhg Dwyer, it was remarkable to see the club's members past and present coming together. It lifted the spirits in their Loughtagalla home, he said.
"Bobby was 60 years involved in the club here, he was a big figure for us. All our matches were called off after that," said Tadhg.
"The love of the club was reflected with the loss of Bobby. The outpouring of assistance from all the members, even lads that haven't been around for 30 or 40 years, they all came back and wanted to help us out.
"It was fantastic to see that lads who had gone away from here so long ago, were so eager to come back and help out. Everything comes back to the old club. It's hard to break that bond. I became involved because my father was and it's the same with my family now. An awful lot of people are like that.
Spirit "When you think about it we have a lot of people involved in the club in a voluntary capacity. They're doing a lot of coaching that don't look for anything for it. They do it because they love the club. From that point of view there is a great community spirit."
When the Plate final is played in the coming weeks, it will be a big day for the club, and the hope is the juniors can bring another piece of silverware to the club this year. Their J1 Division 2 campaign has been impressive to date with just three defeats, although it is expected that they will miss out narrowly on promotion for the second year in a row.
But the women's team have been a shining light in recent seasons. Already they have won the Munster Plate this season, and they face a huge two weeks with this weekend's league semi-final against Bandon, followed in quick succession by the All-Ireland Plate semi-final against Wicklow's Rathdrum on Sunday week.
"The ladies got to the All-Ireland final last year too. They first started in 2005 with us here and it has gone from strength to strength since then. There is a huge interest in the women's game in the town," says Dwyer.
"The big thing for us now is that the club is growing in all directions and we need to expand with it. At the moment we only have one pitch, we don't own our own training pitch. We need to raise a few pound to upgrade the facilities.
"Originally, the ground was built for men and boys, but we now have a thriving women's and girls game now. It's only right and fair that we have top-class facilities for everyone."
Right down through the age grades Thurles RFC is a thriving club. Their U-18 boys are preparing for their Pan Munster Plate semi-final, and the quarter-final of the East Munster Cup. The U-18 girls were recently crowned the Munster U-18 Plate winners, while the boys U-16s and U-14s were also very competitive this season.
But once adult rugby arrives, that's where they meet a major stumbling block.
"It all boils down to the employment in the town. There are no factories and no jobs. It is hard to ask lads to stay around when that's the case," adds Dwyer.
"Look at Clonmel, it's a very busy town, Nenagh is the same and they are both doing well on the field. We've hardly had a job in Thurles since the sugar factory closed. Any young player that's of high enough quality leaves the club and moves to Cork or Limerick. My own lad (Sonny) plays with Cork Con, and we have another lad in Greystones.
"We have a great underage structure, but once it goes to senior level most lads have to move away. And who can blame them? If we managed to get out of Division 2, it would be a small help I'm sure. But it's fair hard to get out of it. You nearly have to win every game to get out."
According to Tadhg, developing a modern facility is priority number one of the club right now, and he says the Club Lotto, which was set up last season, has been a big help in the day-to-day running of the club.
There is also the aim of nurturing the considerable talent in the area and, maybe some time down the line, adding a second senior Irish international to the club-house wall, or having a crack off some of the bigger Munster clubs again.
"Dr Jack Molony is our only international, he is the grandfather of Rory Molony that's playing at Leinster at the moment. He played for Ireland back in the 1950s and we have his shirt up in the clubhouse in pride of place.
"We've had a good few players represent Munster and Ireland at juvenile levels, while the ladies game has seen great success in that field too of late.
"And we've had a few big days over the years too though. We were the first junior team to beat a senior club in the Munster Senior Cup when we beat UCC in 1993. Unfortunately, we went out the next day against Garryowen and they gave us an education with their seven internationals. Since then we have slipped gradually, and without that industry in the area you won't bring in new lads and it's hard to keep our own here.
"We've very happy with the work we're doing in keeping the game alive in the town. We are a rural club and it is tough going at times, but we'll keep fighting hard to keep it enjoyable for everyone."
Address: Moyne Rd, Loughtagalla, Thurles, Co Tipperary
Facebook: Thurles rfc