Planning for future has Galway club in top shape
Dunmore RFC has embraced the game of rugby thanks to a major focus on the underage game, writes Daragh Small
Dunmore is a Galway rugby club on the express route towards stability into the future, and it all began with some brilliant foresight just a few years ago.
The minis and youth section is the lifeblood of any prospering rugby club in the 21st century and along with Connacht Rugby, the hierarchy within the club noticed the need for a massive investment.
And it isn't all just funds: it is skills, expertise and hard work of the people who cared about rugby in Dunmore, that will help it become a booming hub for the sport in time.
Keith Corless is a youth delegate and the mini co-ordinator at the club. He was one of those who helped bring about a change, which will live long in the memory.
"About three years ago we finished off a season with just 12 players from the area from the ages of 11 down to six. We knew then straight away, it was necessary to put some more time and energy into it," says Corless.
"We got a youth committee started and from that then we have really expanded with our new youth structure. Now we have around 84 kids from U-12 down the way. Next year for the first time in eight years we will have an U-13, U-14 and U-15 team.
"We didn't expect that sort of growth at all. But we have a new committee with new helpers and coaches. And we have also had great help from the likes of Luke Murphy and Gavin Foley.
"They have helped us to create new ideas and put them in place and we now know what we have to do to get to where we want to be.
"This year we also joined up with Tuam and Corrib and between the three of us we got a CCRO for the area which is a massive boost.
"The CCRO's role is to go around to the national and secondary schools in the area, and promote rugby on its own. We would have found about 20 per cent of a rise in total new faces that attend training and play rugby for this club now.
"It's new families that are coming in with their kids to play the game and that's always great. That was all because of the CCRO, Tom Newell."
It's a stunning turn-around in fortunes for the club, who no doubt, must have feared for their future when they reflected on the numbers in their youth structure only a few years ago.
Over the years Dunmore has been known as a real traditional hotbed for Gaelic football in the county with players like Michael Donnellan emerging from the local McHales club. Rugby was never as popular a game in the town, but the yellow and black hoops are now just as popular in the North Galway town.
Now they have a brilliant model in place for a sustainable future. And their vast catchment area is another massive plus which only adds fuel to their growing fire.
"The beauty about it, is because of our location in Galway we are pulling an awful lot of kids out of Clonberne, Cloonfad and even in towards Milltown because there wouldn't be a rugby club there," says Corless.
"We did lose out on those kids for the last number of years, but because of Tom's and our work over the last couple of years we have managed to brand into those areas again.
"We had no youth teams at all last year or the year before. This year we had an U-14 team and they made it straight to the Division B final, only narrowly losing out to Oughterard."
Dunmore compete mainly with the likes of Creggs, Monivea and Claremorris for their up-and-coming talent. But there is a vast array of potential rugby nurseries to choose from.
In their direct vicinity they have Clonberne, Kilkerrin, Garrafrauns, Dunmore, Ballinlass and Lavally national schools. And Connacht CCRO Newell has his part to play there.
But there is still a massive problem for Dunmore when their players outgrow the U-15 age-group.
Numbers naturally tend to fall off but the club have fought back, and looked at revolutionary ideas.
"What we are finding is you will get very strong numbers up until U-15s, but after that you notice a significant drop-off," adds Corless.
"To have a successful U-16 team, this is where we are missing out, you want have 30 or 35 kids at U-13 and U-14. Because seven or eight will always drop off.
"But we are thriving at the moment. We have 24 or 25 in our U-14 panel at the moment and it's getting bigger. We are hoping that we can keep a team going.
"In the past, you could lose a lot of good players. Once they come to U-16, ourselves and Tuam have joined together and brought a team through. We did that four-and-a-half years ago and it has worked well.
"Of that team that joined up with Tuam, seven of them togged out with our senior team last Sunday week against Corrib.
"We have to diversify to keep the players going. If it means you have to join up with another club, that's what you have to do."
The ultimate goal for many of the young players still playing the game when they get past U-15 level, is to go on and represent their local province.
So it's always a massive inspiration when they see players who have done that, knocking around their club, with Shane Delahunt and Matt Byrne both hosting training sessions there when they can.
"Every club in Connacht have two players assigned to their club. They will come to you at least twice, if not three or four times. They run a training session and stuff like that," says Corless.
All that's left now is for the club to have top-notch training facilities for their youngsters, and Dunmore have moved to further enhance what is already there.
"About 14 years ago we got some money from the Lotto. Our facilities are shared with Dunmore soccer and the Community Games," Corless adds.
"What we did a couple of years ago is we built new dressing rooms. This year we got money from a sports fund, and our intention with that €68,000 is to do a running track around the entire area which will be about 950 metres to go around the soccer and rugby pitch. It will facilitate our training and the Dunmore community sports group as well.
"We are also doing well in terms of sponsorship and had great help from John Knight, who is running a company in London called Knightbuild.
"He was very generous to us this year. We were under pressure to get jerseys for our minis. But he came on board and helped us out and now we all have new club gear this year."