Big future looks a cert as club turns to schools
An innovative scheme to introduce the game in national schools has Monivea RFC to the fore out west, writes Ciarán McGreal
Monivea RFC have been on the go since 1972 and the club are putting a massive emphasis on the development of its youth players.
Rugby is very popular in secondary schools around the country but Monivea are focusing heavily on introducing the sport to children in the national schools in its locality.
Pádraic McGann was one of the club's original founders back in the 1970s and he is still heavily involved and feels this schools project is vital to the club's future.
"Four years ago I said that the only place we could go is into the national schools. I approached the Connacht Branch and the IRFU and we put together a package for three years where we'd coach all the schools in the catchment area," says McGann.
"We're coaching 22 national schools. That's the only way now. This year we've started with first class and second class. It's a ten-year programme to try and get them up to 18 years of age. The big challenge is in five years' time to see if we have them in the secondary schools. I'm hoping that the guys will go in and that the rugby ball will get the same treatment as the sliotar or the football in the secondary schools. That's the goal. If we can achieve that, Monivea will be a sustainable rugby club."
Peter O'Hara is currently handling the coaching of all the schools, having taken over from Darren Collins this year. This initiative has seen a big boost in playing numbers in Monivea's minis section.
Approximately 200 children play in the minis section which starts at U-7s and runs up as far as U-12s. This section caters for boys and girls while the club also fields boys' youth teams from U-13s up to U-20s.
The recession in this country had a huge impact on Monivea RFC which put an end to a great period of success for the club's senior side.
"In 2002 we had never won a league but we had a great flock of lads coming through. We went on little tours to England, Scotland and Wales but I said we'd do one big one. We went to South Africa. I brought 51 lads to South Africa and we came back and I said, 'Now lads, this is it.'
"We came home and, having never won the league, we won the league that year. In the 13 years following that, they won nine leagues.
"That's a lot. And we lost all of those players to the recession because they went to Australia and everywhere."
McGann is planning to bring three of the local secondary schools on another trip to South Africa in 18 months' time.
Presentation College Athenry, Athenry Vocational School and Holy Rosary College Mountbellew are the three schools and McGann feels it would be a wonderful experience for the students.
"I feel, from having gone there before with the club's senior side, that it would be a fabulous education for those students to see South Africa."
McGann feels the closure of FÁS also had a negative impact on the club and when it closed, he feared for the club's future.
"Eighty-five per cent of the Monivea rugby team were always plasterers, plumbers, block-layers, carpenters and electricians.
"Our university was FÁS. I watched every year how many lads went into FÁS and I knew I had them for years because they had jobs locally and they could train with us.
"But then FÁS closed and I was dumbfounded. I thought Monivea wouldn't have a rugby team anymore."
But the club are still going and with the schools project thriving, the club looks set to carry on for many years to come.
McGann was quick to point out the efforts of the club's committee in keeping the club afloat in difficult times for the country.
"Des Mahon, our president, is fantastic and all our committee are doing a great job at keeping the club going."
Last Sunday saw Connacht's European Champions Cup run come to an end as they lost to Toulouse but it was a good day for Monivea as they defeated Castlebar in the Connacht Junior Cup. The Galway side romped to a 32-12 win over their Mayo rivals in the opening round of the cup.
The senior side play in the Connacht Junior 1A league and they have won six of their ten league games to date this season.
Monivea's underage stars have a local hero to look up to in Caolin Blade.
The scrum-half is currently in Connacht's squad and the Monivea native won the Pro12 title with the province last season.
Blade is contracted with Connacht until this summer and with John Cooney moving to Ulster, Blade will likely see more first team action.
Due to Connacht's injury crisis this season, Blade had to stand in at out-half away to Ospreys when Jack Carty limped off injured but McGann feels this would have been no trouble to Blade as he played in that position when he was younger.
"Out-half was his position. He never wanted to play anywhere else! They were telling him that he'd be a better scrum-half.
"He didn't want to move to scrum-half but he did, fair play to him. He played out-half for Connacht a few weeks ago, he made no mistake and some other day he may play there again. He's a utility player. You can put him on the wing, you can put him full-back or in the centre. We expect lots to happen with Caolin yet. He's only 22."
McGann feels Connacht's success over the last few seasons have had a hugely positive impact on the club.
"We're hoping to say a thank you at the end of the season to Pat Lam and the whole panel. We'll hope to have them out here and give them an Irish welcome. John Muldoon helped us out a few years ago with coaching.
"And Jimmy Duffy, I know him a long time, he is unreal. He's a gentleman and I'm delighted he got to the top. We're very grateful to Pat Lam, John Muldoon and Jimmy Duffy.
"The one thing I'd say about Connacht is that are systems there now for all of us.
"The academy is magic and they have it at all levels and I have to hand it to them. They have all the sections going.
"The amount of work that's been done there in the last six or seven years by the Connacht Branch is magic. The systems are there and it's up to us to buy into them."