Underage starting to shine for Skibbereen
Club Focus: Skibbereen RFC
Rowing has been the main sport associated with Skibbereen in recent months after the O'Donovan brothers' exploits in the Summer Olympics but rowing isn't the only sport thriving in the Cork town.
Skibbereen RFC have been on the go since 1951 and the club boasts a rich tradition in the game, but it is in recent years that their love of the game has been transferred onto the provincial scene.
Club president Margaret Coombes says the town is extremely proud of their latest sporting heroes and she also explains the O'Donovans' link with the club.
"Gary played a bit of rugby with Skibbereen. I don't recall Paul playing but Gary did play for a small while. U-14 I think. Great characters, very grounded lads," says Coombes.
"You'd find that with fellas around here. Everybody knows everybody else and people have great belief and great love for their area. It brings out the best in people."
The rugby club was founded in 1951 and won County Cup titles in the 1954/'55 and 1961/'62 seasons as well as several O'Neill Cups in the 1950s. Skibbereen celebrated its 50th anniversary back in 2001.
"We had a big occasion when we brought back the County Cup winning team," recalls Coombes. "We had an absolutely fantastic celebration. Most of the team came back. Twelve or 15 of them came back. We've done a big job on our clubhouse so we have a very nice gathering place. We hold quite a lot of events."
While the O'Donovans have been the poster boys for the town over the last few months, some of the rugby club's past players have been flying high as well. Gavin Coombes is in the Munster Academy and he currently plays for Young Munster in the Ulster Bank League.
Gavin's cousin Liam, son of the president, is in the sub academy along with David McCarthy and both of them play with Garryowen. The teams met last Friday night and Liam and David came out on the winning side as Garryowen edged out Young Munster 13-11. President Coombes is delighted about the success of the three academy lads and how they are flying the flag for underage rugby in West Cork.
"Gavin is the first player ever from Skibbereen to be taken into the Munster Academy. He did his Leaving Cert in the summer and he went directly into Year 1 of the Academy. Liam and David are in the sub-academy.
"Gavin starts at No 8 for Young Munster and Liam and David play with Garryowen. They played all the way up in Skibbereen.
"They live together, they go to college together and they socialise together! And they play each other on the rugby pitch! They're great lads. Rugby in West Cork is at a very high standard at underage. The three boys are leading the way. It's very good for our young people to see that, if you work hard enough, you'll be as good as anybody else."
The club's senior team play in the Munster Junior League Division 1 and have won two of their six games to date.
The club took on Clanwilliam last Sunday and were beaten 20-9 by the Tipperary side. Skibbereen opened their campaign with a 26-18 home win over Old Christians before losing away to Cobh Pirates the following week. Two losses on the bounce followed against Newcastle West and St Senan's but the West Cork club edged out Abbeyfeale 27-26 in their fifth game.
This Sunday at 2.30pm Skibbereen take on Cork rivals Bandon and Declan Coppinger's side will look to get back to winning ways after their loss away to Clanwilliam.
Skibbereen's minis section runs from U-7s to U-12s and the club boasts a cohort of 150 minis players. In the youth section, the club have 140 players from U-13s to U-18s. Ms Coombes praised the efforts of the parents and volunteers involved with the club in the promotion of underage rugby in the area.
"We're very strong at underage. We're blessed in that we have fantastic parents. We're in a sporting-mad area, whether it's GAA, rowing or rugby you're talking about, and the bar is very high. Everybody pulls out all the stops."
Also, the club have set up an U-15 girls' team this year which is the first girls' team to represent the club at youth level. Former club members Enya Breen and Claire Coombes currently play with Bantry and have represented Ireland at U-18s level.
"We didn't have rugby for girls so they went to Bantry who did have rugby for girls," explains Coombes. "They're marvellous girls. They played mini rugby but after that we had nothing for them until now. There's a huge interest. We have 28 to 30 very enthusiastic young girls."
Skibbereen is a football hotbed and the rugby club is surrounded by many senior and junior GAA clubs.
"We have three senior clubs. The rugby club is based in the town so we've got Castlehaven GAA five miles away, Ilen Rovers GAA club another five miles away and O'Donovan Rossa in the town. So we have three senior clubs and then all around us after that we've got junior clubs like Gabriel Rangers who are eight miles out the road.
"They're county Junior 'A' champions. If you look at all of those teams there's probably rugby players in all of them. That's the way it is in rural places. Fellas play GAA and they play rugby."
Despite the prominence of football in the town, president Coombes stressed that the rugby club have good relationships with the various GAA clubs.
"It's hard work for everybody but we have a very good relationship with them," she adds.
"We accommodate each other as best we can. It's hard at times but we don't put pressure on fellas to play rugby. We understand where they're at but it all works out quite well."
Address: Mill Rd, Skibbereen, Co Cork.
President: Margaret Coombes
Head coach: Declan Coppinger
Facebook: Skibbereen RFC