Tralee RFC - Kerry club aiming to rocket up the ranks
With a proud tradition in the oval ball game, the Tralee club is hoping to make further progress this year, writes Ciarán McGreal
Tralee RFC is one of the oldest rugby clubs in Ireland, having been founded in 1882, and the Kerry outfit continue to do justice to their long heritage.
They begin their Munster Junior League Division 2 campaign on Sunday away to Waterford City. The team will go into that game with confidence having picked up some silverware a few weeks ago as they won the Moss Keane Memorial Tournament. The competition has been running for the last four years and this year was Tralee's first time winning the tournament.
Honorary secretary Shane O'Sullivan feels this victory will give the team a boost going into the new season.
"There's a good attitude with the lads and it was good to start the season by winning the Moss Keane tournament. Winning a Kerry tournament is always important," says O'Sullivan.
Tralee have three full-sized pitches, including a sand-based pitch which was developed about five years ago. O'Sullivan says the club are determined to kick on to the next step of their development with the installation of floodlights in the coming years.
"The one main development is that we'd like to have lights on the top pitch so that we could play some games on a Friday evening or a Saturday evening to try and create an atmosphere at the clubhouse.
"Rugby is a social sport so if we had pitches with lights, fellas might get a taxi to the game and have a few pints in the clubhouse after the game and maybe go on into town."
The club has approximately 250 underage players ranging from U-6s to U-18s and their U-18 side claimed silverware last season as they won the Munster U-18 Plate.
The Kerry side defeated Old Christians 18-13 at Irish Independent Park with Joe Quilter and Joe Benjamin grabbing the tries, while Sam Boyle starred off the tee once again.
Head coach Brian O'Dowd is beginning his first season as head coach of the senior team and he is looking forward to working with some of their U-18 stars in the senior set-up.
"The great thing about these guys is that they've never experienced a hard season of losing or dogfights. They're after injecting a good bit of confidence into the squad. They turn up to games believing that they're going to win any game."
Ultan Dillane is a notable past player for the club. The Irish international began his rugby career with Tralee and currently plays for Connacht. The Paris-born second-row won a Pro12 trophy with Connacht last season to round off a great season for him personally.
Joe Schmidt handed him his Ireland debut in February and the 22-year-old will be looking to add to his five caps over the coming season.
O'Sullivan praised Dillane's impact on Tralee's underage players.
"He's a brilliant role model for the kids. They can relate to him. We have pictures of Ultan in the Tralee jersey and the Irish jersey. It gives them something to aspire to," adds O'Sullivan.
Former Dolphin coach O'Dowd echoed O'Sullivan's admiration for Dillane.
"He's a great clubman. He comes down to work with the underage teams and he attends table quizzes. He's a really good clubman. He hasn't gone to the pro game and forgotten where he has come from.
"That goes back to the club. There's a great atmosphere in this club between the underage structure and then coming into adult rugby. I don't know if many people know but I think Ultan played his first senior game at 17 years of age so that'll tell you how good he was and where he's gone to.
"He's fantastic for us, publicity-wise and mentoring the youths that are coming up," says O'Dowd.
Former Munster player Danny Barnes also played for Tralee in the past. The New Zealand-born centre made his debut for Munster in 2010 against Connacht and he scored two tries for the province in the Pro12 semi-final in 2011.
"Danny's father, Ed, was underage coach and he coached the senior team for a couple of years," says O'Sullivan.
"Danny was fantastic for Munster in the Pro12 and he got a fantastic try for Munster in the Heineken Cup. Ed actually would have been Ultan's coach growing up. He would have coached him at U-16 and U-18 level."
Barnes moved to English Premiership side Newcastle Falcons in 2013 and played for London-based Championship outfit Ealing Trailfinders last season.
Siobhán Fleming is another Irish international from the Tralee ranks. She began her rugby career for Tralee back in 2007 and went on to win a Six Nations Grand Slam with Ireland in 2013.
The flanker also represented Ireland in the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup. She bagged a try in the 40-5 pool stage win over Kazakhstan as Ireland qualified for the semi-final only to be beaten by England.
Tralee have a senior women's squad of about 30 players and the club have produced three Irish Sevens internationals in recent years. Christine Arthurs, Siobhán Barrett and Laura O'Mahony have all represented Ireland on the Sevens circuit. O'Dowd is full of praise for the dedication that the club's women have to their game.
"The ladies' rugby set-up is fantastic here. They're always recruiting new players. They've got a good coaching structure around them. The club is after launching an U-13s as well so they're trying to get them in young and keep going.
"It's great because they've got an equal status in the club. They're putting in serious effort around the club, on the pitch. They're one of the key cornerstones of this club."
Address: O'Dowd Park, Ballyard, Tralee, Co Kerry
Famous players: Ultan Dillane, Dick Spring, John O'Sullivan, Danny Barnes, Siobhán Fleming
Head coach: Brian O'Dowd
Captain: Ronan O'Sullivan
Club President: Andrew Fitzgerald