Club Focus: Progressive Laois outfit make gains in all grades
With over 50 years of history behind them, Portlaoise are always looking to improve, on and off the field, writes Brian Lowry
Portlaoise RFC was founded in 1966 and having just celebrated its 50th anniversary, they can look back proudly and take huge credit at the progress they have made since their inception. From humble beginnings, the club is now located in Togher with excellent facilities that would have been a pipe dream almost 50 years ago.
Since Rathdowney Rugby Club ceased playing in the early 1950s, the county of Laois was without a rugby club. This prompted a group of Portlaoise rugby supporters to meet and investigate if there was enough interest and players to form a rugby club in the mid 1960s. After a meeting in September 1966, the club was formed. The first pitch used by the club was opposite the County Hospital but in 1969 a seven-acre field on the Mountmellick Road was purchased.
This provided enough room for the two pitches; however with the sudden increase of players and the poor quality of the field it was decided to look elsewhere. In 1971, the club purchased 19.5 acres in Togher and it was from there that they began to put down roots.
Years of hard work developing and fundraising came to fruition four years later when their grounds at Togher were officially opened with a game against the Wolfhounds.
In 1971, the first piece of silverware was won by the club with the thirds team, under the leadership of Densel Mills, beating Arklow in Carlow to win the Lawlor Cup.
The club's first team play in Division 1B of the Leinster League having gained promotion last season.
In recent years silverware had been scarce in Togher but under coach Paul Brady and captain Will Sherlock, both the men's 1st XV and 2nd XV celebrated league honours fulfilling the promise shown in seasons past.
The first XV went through the Leinster League Division 2A only losing twice in 14 games en route to winning the league by five points ahead of Railway Union.
2015/2016 saw a steady league campaign and a young team mature. They enjoyed a good Towns Cup run, beating Tullamore and North Kildare before being beaten by eventual winners Wicklow in the quarter-finals. Having a proud Towns Cup tradition, this cup campaign was well received by all associated with the club.
Life in Division 1B has been a bit of an adjustment for them. With three wins and one draw from 11 games, they sit in sixth place, eight points ahead of bottom-placed Mullingar and 29 points off table-toppers Wicklow.
One of those wins came last weekend when they defeated Suttonians, another of the clubs battling at the wrong end of the table. It was an excellent performance from the Laois men and a timely boost with a critical period of league and cup rugby on the horizon.
Portlaoise Ladies compete in Leinster League Division 4 and have had a successful season thus far. Their proud tradition has seen them overcome many challenges and begin to redevelop their team by not only integrating new players from the youths set-up but also attracting new players.
Alison Miller continues to shine at international level, while players such as Eimear Corri, Niamh Griffin and Lizzie Brophy continue to impress at provincial level. Corri was integral to the Leinster women winning the Inter-provincial series in 2016.
At youths level, the club is developing strongly under the guidance of youths coordinator Philip Bradley and a strong team of coaches. With three girls teams (U-12, U-15 & U-18) and five boys teams (U-13, U-14, U-16 & U-18) fielding every week, there is a strong production line of quality players being generated. There has been some notable success at this level in previous seasons and Portlaoise continue to be represented at area and Leinster finals this season.
Portlaoise RFC has also been well represented at provincial level with strong representation on the successful U-18 Leinster Girls squad. Representation hasn't just stopped there for the girls with Eimear Corri making the Ireland U-18 Women's 7s team. Portlaoise are also well represented in their North Midlands area with seven players in the Shane Horgan Cup squad.
In more recent times, Rory Maloney has gone on to represent Ireland at U-20 level and the club are very proud to have played a part in his development. Sean Masterson has also gone on to captain Connacht U-18s and play for Connacht Eagles.
Eoghan Masterson has also passed through the Portlaoise ranks to take his place in the Connacht team and with the trojan work being done at underage level within the club, the production line is sure to carry on in Portlaoise.
At minis level, the club is continuing to expand with 250 boys and girls playing rugby from U-7s to U-12s. Under the watchful eye of coordinator Philip Bradley, these future stars train regularly and play in area blitzes. Placing value on core skills and enjoyment of games these teams have shown great progression year on year as numbers continuously grow.
With community rugby officers providing tag rugby to schools in the area as well as summer tag rugby, the signs are that the game will continue to thrive in Portlaoise.
Portlaoise RFC has a very strong reputation for conducting all of their activities in a very professional manner and this year, the club's progressive engagement with local media, social media and Leinster Rugby's own media channels has seen their profile grow in the community. Game attendances have increased and the awareness of the club's activities has grown.
As the club looks back on its 50th anniversary, it can boast a good standing in the community and with progress being made on and off the field, Portlaoise RFC are a club to look out for.
Grounds: Togher, Portlaoise, Co. Laois.
Division: Leinster League Division 1B.
Youths and Minis: U-7 to U-18.
Club captain: Gavin Thompson.
Next week's club focus is on Trinity Rugby