Keeping flame alive in remote north-west frontier
"So where exactly is Erris?" is usually the first thing we are asked when we travel to and talk with other clubs, which indicates that we are pretty much in unknown territory.
Erris RFC is located on the Mullet Peninsula in the Barony of Erris in north-west Mayo, right on the very edge of Ireland, with the wild Atlantic roaring encouragement beside us.
We started out life very casually in 2006 when one of our coaches moved back west, bringing his love of the game with him and began working with a few teens throwing a ball around on a summers evening.
This was virgin territory for rugby, with little history or tradition of the game in the area and it was a long slow journey to get where we are now.
Our affiliation to the Connacht Branch took place in 2010 and from then, with the help of Lyndon Jones and with great support and enthusiasm from other Branch people such as Luke Murphy, Russell O'Brien, Paul Jennings and Gerry O'Donnell, we have built a little Youths rugby club that we are very proud of.
We have been joined along the way by some really talented and dedicated coaches, who bring a wealth of knowledge and passion for the game and we're very thankful for the time and effort they give to the club, both on and off the pitch.
There's no doubt that for us coaches getting out on a Saturday afternoon or Tuesday evening for a run around brings its own rewards and definitely keeps the cobwebs at bay.
The teens that started out in the early days eventually went off to college and we then spent the first couple of years building from Minis and playing in blitzes whenever we could with nearest clubs Ballina, Westport and later Castlebar.
At times our numbers were small, and indeed that can be the case to this day for our Minis section. But we have grown and now this season we have two Youths League teams, one each at U-13 and U-16 level, and the days of standing in a field in the rain with only two members turning up to training seem long behind us.
Our U-16s have reached the play-off stage of the Connacht Development League, which is a fantastic achievement for the players and coaches in their first foray in to competitive Youths rugby, and our U-13s show great promise and potential.
The commitment, particularly now in our competitive environment, has been amazing and to see young lads up early on a wintery weekend morning to embark on a five to seven-hour round trip to play the game is heartening.
We currently play our home games at Kilmore Community Sports Field, the committee of which we are forever grateful to for giving us a home. It's a fantastically maintained facility with a brilliant floodlit pitch and a clubhouse, and in 2014 the first rugby posts in Erris were erected here.
Without this support we would never be able to host those teams who are hardy enough to brave the journey to the Peninsula. It's an example of community working at its best.
Our geographical location, whilst beautiful, presents certain challenges.
Erris covers a vast land area but is sparsely populated, which means our numbers will differ somewhat compared to clubs located close to larger towns but the commitment of our players, who come from far and wide, is second to none and the enthusiasm particularly at our U-16 Tuesday night training sessions is amazing.
The cost and time of travel to matches is high and this can be off-putting for some visiting clubs.
Thus far we have made it a policy to honour all of our fixtures regardless of distance - game-time is one of the most important factors for learning and perfecting the sport.
We hope we will be able to continue with that policy with the help and generosity of local sponsors and supporters. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the parents of our players who have considerable distances to travel to drop off for training and matches and then pick up again at the end of it all.
We work with local secondary schools to propagate and nurture the game by assisting with coaching within the schools, and at present we are assisting Our Lady's Secondary School in Belmullet, but our aim is to have a presence in both of the second level schools down the line and hopefully recruit new members for the club at the same time.
Over the past 12-18 months we have seen more players joining at this level.
Our dream is that we will one day have an adult team playing in the Erris jersey but we are also aware that again our location dictates that some of our young players will more than likely leave for college or adventures further afield.
We're happy in the knowledge that we may forever remain a youths rugby club and as long as we're sending our players off in to the world with the same passion for the game that we have then that's reward in itself.