Underage system forms club's bedrock
Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30
Following on from last season's success, Highfield RFC recently claimed the All Ireland League Division 2B title for the second year in a row and next season will compete in Division 2A.
Established in 1930, the Cork club has a long history of notable successes at underage level and, according to president Eugene Carley, the inherent ability to retain players has been one of the main contributors towards the club's progression.
"We rarely lose players and if we do it is mainly if they have to move away for work. Of the 20 players last season, 18 of them had come through our underage system.
"Even the two other remaining players between them have almost 10 years at the club so it's very much a homegrown, loyal squad," says Carley.
Leading from the front is former Munster and Toulon prop Timmy Ryan, who took the reins as head coach two seasons ago. Having also began his playing career at underage in Highfield, Carley acknowledges the wealth of experience Ryan has brought to his coaching role and his overall passion for the club.
"He started his rugby with Highfield and played all the way through our underage. He eventually had to move on for career purposes, firstly to Cork Con and then to Munster and Toulon," he explains.
"To put it in perspective, Timmy played in the Amlin Cup final in 2010 with Jonny Wilkinson which is a fantastic achievement and he has been able to bring all that experience back with him as a former professional player."
Recognising the quality of the Highfield players over the last two seasons, Carley acknowledges the quality and experience of the current squad.
"Timmy inherited a very strong squad of players that were added to when he came in," he says.
"The likes of Miah Cronin and Chris Bannon, who came back from Dolphin after playing in Division 1A, brought with them a wealth of experience.
"Martin Gately also came back to us from Cork Con so we had three Division 1A players return in the last year who were all former Highfield players."
Adding to the club's silverware, Highfield's J2 side recently retained the Dennehy Cup for their second consecutive year and Carley said overall he is delighted with club's consistency at all levels.
"Our youth structure is as vibrant as ever" he said, "and I must give credit to Holger Ertz, chairman of our youths, and all involved at underage who put in an enormous effort.
"We are suffering a bit with players going to schools at U-14s, and that unfortunately is impacting on the club at U-16 and U-18 level, but we do work hard to try and get them back when they're finished school."
With a large club membership Carley said Highfield RFC are continuing to grow at all levels with an overall objective of reaching their full potential.
"Women's rugby is continuing to thrive. We are the only club in Cork with a Division 1 ladies team which we are very proud of.
"Highfield and Cork Con are really the only two clubs that are putting out a senior team, two junior teams and an U-20 team on the same weekend.
"We achieved what we to set out to achieve last season and every year strive to be the best we can be.
"The lads will start again in June with gym and fitness work to get ready for September - we're looking at the top four in the AIL again next year and hopefully will continue with our recent successes."