RUGBY on these shores is riding on the crest of a wave as Ireland bask in the glory of a first series win over New Zealand and find themselves officially ranked as the best team on the planet one year out from the World Cup.
Here in Drogheda there is plenty to celebrate too as local club Boyne RFC - newly promoted back to the top tier in the Leinster junior grade - prepare to mark their 25th birthday with an anniversary dinner in the d Hotel this coming Saturday.
Guest speaker Sean O’Brien - the so-called Tullow Tank - will no doubt entertain the guests in the packed function room with tales from his trophy-laden years with Leinster and Ireland, and along the way he’ll doff a scrum cap to Boyne for their success in bringing through senior internationals Shane Horgan, Niall Ronan and Mark McHugh and a host of other professional players.
But the Shamrock Lodge-based club - formed in 1997 from the amalgamation of Drogheda and Delvin RFCs - aren’t resting on their laurels and their committee have some very interesting plans, both in the short and long-term, to help bring Boyne to the next level.
Pulling the strings is former second row player Leo Monahan, the club’s new president, who is determined to bring some of these objectives to fruition during his term at the helm. He is adamant that the amalgamation of 25 years ago was a success, but that standing still isn’t an option for Boyne given the sheer numbers of people involved.
“Part of the reason for the amalgamation was that senior clubs were starting to poach and we were putting all this work in (to coach underage players),” he recalled.
“We’ve created some great players like Shane Horgan, Mark McHugh and Shane Monahan (Leo’s nephew). There’s another lad (Karl Martin) playing over in France, and by the way we don’t mind them moving on as long as you get a bit of gratitude back.
“If we were still two separate clubs we’d probably be Division 3 or Division 4, struggling. We can have anything from 350 to 400 kids training in a weekend and that’s a challenge. The cost of running all that is huge.
“We’re very lucky at the moment because we have a very, very good committee, a very good treasurer and there’s good direction.
“We’ve agreed we’re staying in Shamrock Lodge now, we have the facility of Bryanstown and we rent the Grammar School pitch.
“We’re putting in a 35 by 45-metre 4G pitch beside the St Ita’s unit and they’re going to be able to use that for the kids, and we’re also going to use it for training. It’s like two five-a-side pitches.
“But my main challenge I want to achieve for the club is to get the old first pitch turned into a 4G pitch, with the primary reason to get all the underage back to the club so that we’re working as one unit.
“We’re all over the place, a little bit. Some parents never get a chance to come into the club and for me the most important part of the club - the first team is important, I love the first team - is underage. Keep the kids training.
“The underage is brilliant. It’s the lifeblood of the club and the more underage we have and the connection and the follow-through - that’s what my real quest is for the club. I want to make the facilities in the bar a little bit better if we can so that the experience for members coming in is good.
“There was talk about moving out (of Shamrock Lodge), but I think we have the best location you could ever have. We’re in the town of Drogheda. South Louth, north Meath, Boyne Valley. The biggest town in Ireland - it’s all there.
“The new pitch could cost anything from €800,000 to €1 million. What we will do is raise a certain amount of money ourselves and you would look for Leader funding and whatever. Other clubs in the country have done it, so why not us?”
While Leo “loves all sports”, both at local and national level, he feels that Boyne RFC stands out for the way it brings together players from rival counties Louth and Meath.
“I’ve had a lifetime in Drogheda and I’m passionate about the town and the area,” he said.
“I’m more of a Meath man than a Louth man, but I would support Louth if Meath weren’t playing.
“I know there’s terrible rivalry for historical reasons, which I never fully understand, but the beauty of Boyne Rugby Club - and I will say this strongly - is that you have Louth and Meath people playing sport together.
“You have multiple Gaelic clubs and multiple soccer clubs, but in the town of Drogheda we have one (rugby) club and it’s been a great achievement and it gives us a fantastic direction.
“With the challenges that are facing the country and the world at the moment, with drugs, IT, technology, it’s a very challenging time for young people now, so the more directions they have . . .”
Leo then turned his attention to what he sees as the number one need of the town of Drogheda from a sporting perspective, and contrary to what some people might think it isn’t more pitches or another swimming pool.
“There’s one thing we really need in Drogheda, that will help all sporting clubs in the town,” he said unequivocally.
“It’s third-level education. We’ve the Dundalk IT up there and DCU up there (in the other direction) and there’s no reason why we can’t have something.
“It’s one thing that really hurts us. When we were coaching the U19s we had Leaving Cert, pre Leaving Cert and college (students) and the only night we could train with a full team was a Friday evening when the lads came back from college.
“So if we had third-level in Drogheda it would help Gaelic clubs and soccer clubs (as well as rugby).
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I think if all the sporting organisations in Drogheda and the greater Drogheda area came together and formed a body to put pressure on the powers that be, I think we could make it happen.”
Returning to his own club, Leo feels there are plenty of people in the local community who can do their bit, however small, to help take Boyne to the next level, whether that be on or off the pitch.
“When you look at clubs and the way they are run and you’ve committees, there will be people out there that might have fallen out with Boyne. Why? Maybe it’s something the committee did, but that always happens. That’s called life isn’t it.
“I would love them to come back. I feel nobody is bigger than the club and the club will be here a lot longer than I will. When I’m gone there’ll be somebody else there.
“It’s unusual that I’m president because I was involved in the amalgamation. It’s 25 years on and it’s kind of funny the way it happened. I probably could have been president two years ago, but Covid stopped that, so maybe it’s just destiny and that’s the way I see it.
“The presidency is a huge honour. I don’t look for things like that - I like to be in the background and I’ve been on the committee for a number of years - but if by being president I can help improve the club and move it forward - obviously with the committee because it’s not just one person - that’s why I’m taking it on.
“It gives you a mantle. You can go and talk to people. They know where you’re coming from and what you’re speaking about.
“When I go to someone and I want them to help support the pitch, what am I asking them to do? I’m asking them to support the youth of Drogheda that play rugby, I’m not asking them to support me.
“We all know the problems in society, and one of the strongest ways of making things improve is sport.
“With the amount of guys I’ve coached, I don’t know if I could tell you any one of them that got in trouble, because of the discipline involved and the parents being involved, and if I was a Gaelic man here talking, the same principle applies.
“But I don’t know if the powers that be in Government and whatever look upon it enough that way.
“I would like our club to be community-based as much as possible. We’ve a gym in it now, we’ve St Ita’s (Special School), we’ve Praxis Care, and if we do the new pitch we could put a walk around the pitch so you can have social members. Covid showed us that people wanted somewhere where they could walk safely.”
On the field of play there have been so many special moments over the past 25 years, mainly in the glory era just over a decade ago when New Zealander Craig McGrath - now working alongside the great Joe Schmidt at Auckland Blues - was player coach.
“There’s loads of highlights. For me, one of the best was my involvement (as a coach) with the Leinster U19 League and Cup-winning team (in 2011). We got to the All-Ireland semi-finals and lost and it probably helped us win the Cup because it gave them that kick up the arse that they needed.
“My god they were a great bunch of lads, but underage is funny. You can have a team that turn up on the day and you look at them and say ‘we’re in trouble today’. It’s like a disease hits them all and they just don’t perform.
“Winning the two Towns Cup was another massive highlight. I actually videoed for nearly 10 years and when we won them I was up in a Height for Hire videoing the games.
“Playing AIL also. When we amalgamated I thought we were going to conquer the rugby world, but it was a very levelling process.
“It took us a long time to get where we needed to get to change the culture, and then we did get to the AIL. But the AIL can be damaging for a club because you are travelling (long-distance) to places like Sligo. You can lose a lot of your supporters.
“I went through the years in the AIL when we were losing games all the time - soul-destroying.
“The underage looking at the first team needs to see them doing well, but there’s a good feel in the club now and a good connection between the senior panel and (head coach) Vic Ball who has a great team (behind him).”
Having been relegated back to junior rugby, Boyne spent a couple of years in the second tier but are now back in the top flight, so given his mixed opinions about the merits of the All-Ireland League, where would the current president like to see Boyne’s first team in the future?
“We were Junior Division 2 last year and we’re Division 1 this year and it’s going to be challenging,” he said.
“Junior 1 rugby, for whatever reason, is one of the strongest divisions and it’s very tough. A lot of players come through it and go to Leinster - it’s a proven fact - but once we’re playing at a level that we’re good enough to play in . . .
“We had a great team in the AIL in the first couple of years and whether I see it in my lifetime or not, I think we should be a Division 1A AIL team eventually because we are a community-based club and I think the future of rugby is community-based.
“It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of financial commitment, but because we’ve one club we’ve a brilliant situation.
“The next club up from us is Balbriggan, Dundalk, Navan, so we’ve a wonderful catchment area.
“I think it’s a great club, but I think we can make it a bit better and reach out to the business community to support us in our endeavours.”