Youngsters get chance to put club to the fore
Focus on underage skills development has primed Monivea RFC for another journey back to the big time, writes Daragh Small
Monivea RFC are one of the heavyweights of junior rugby in Galway and the wider province, and as the Castle Grounds get a face-lift in the coming months, their fantastic underage structures are looking to unearth the next Caolin Blade.
Damien Costello is one of the coaches who hopes to add to the fine conveyor belt of talent streaming from the east County Galway confines.
Costello is a player, coach and PRO at the club, and while he works at Joyce's Supermarket in Athenry his long-term dream is to become a professional coach.
Despite only being 21, he already has five years of coaching experience under his belt and says that rugby was always the game for him since he joined along with a few of his friends from the Vocational School in Athenry, when he was in second year.
"When you are a lad my size at that age, inclusion in all sports is what you want. I was playing both GAA sports when I started rugby and I gave them up about two seasons into it because there wasn't as much politics," said Costello.
"Everyone got their fair shot in rugby whereas sometimes it might have been down to who you knew when it came to the GAA."
Costello is from Athenry, but moved to Monivea where he plays prop or flanker, although in the past he has lined out anywhere from No 8 to full-back.
And he knows that Monivea have something special, something different to the clubs who compete in the Ulster Bank League.
"We have always been a big club in Connacht, especially at senior level. We are always considered one of the teams to look out for. We won the Junior Cup last year at J1 level. Saying all that we wouldn't be as big as the city clubs like Sligo, Galwegians, Corinthians or Buccaneers," said Costello.
"But it's just the community that's around the team. In most clubs you go to, I have been to some of the ones in Galway city countless times on a weekend morning. Everybody feels disconnected from everyone else.
"Here in Monivea if you come down on a Saturday morning you will see the coaches and all of the minis helping each other out with tips and drill ideas.
"One of the U-8 coaches was having trouble with a few of his players on their tackling. I remember Pearse Timothy came down and gave them a great drill. They went on to win for the entire season."
As recently as April 2013 Monivea were fighting for promotion to the Ulster Bank League to join their illustrious neighbours as a senior club.
Their round-robin campaign didn't go as planned though and since then they have been dreaming of another shot at the play-offs.
It is unlikely that they'll make it this year after a shaky start to their J1A season sees them in the bottom half of the table but with strong foundations the good times can't be too far away.
What really keeps Monivea ticking is the rich tradition of family involvement, and past players lending a hand when they hang up their boots.
But Costello was still very much involved on the playing side when he was tempted into the coaching ranks.
"I have been with Monivea since I joined when I was playing with the U-15s. I have been playing with them since," said Costello.
"Then I started coaching about five years ago. That was due to Carmel Laheen, the club secretary. My brother was playing minis and she just called me up one Saturday morning and said that their U-9s were stuck for a coach and would I come down and help. That was five years ago and I am all over the club now.
"You will find a lot of that. Padraic McGann is an ex-president and ex-player. He's currently treasurer on the committee and that was the only role he hasn't taken up yet at the club."
Last month a Monivea National School blitz saw 126 fifth and sixth-class pupils turn out to hone their skills, while tomorrow Loughrea and Galway Bay RFC are visiting with about 300 children expected to turn up.
The great feeling of unity around the club, and the brilliant tradition that exists, is always boosted when one of their own succeeds at the top level.
Connacht's PRO12 victory in 2015-16 was a massive bonus for every club in the province, but having a former club member, scrum-half Blade, in the team was huge for Monivea.
"There is a wonderful atmosphere here. We put the emphasis on making everyone feeling welcome.
"Even the travelling teams have complimented Carmel Laheen on the reception we put out for them at times," said Costello.
"It's just a bonus when you see players going on to play for Connacht.
"We have had a lot of players making the academy. We have two or three players in the academy at the moment and countless throughout the various underage grades.
"But Caolin being on the senior squad has really given us a big bonus. A lot of little lads from around the area have seen that he has come from this club and they can do it too.
"After Caolin's first game in the senior squad we had our record number of attendees at minis training the following week.
"It was a big step-up when Connacht won the league too.
"You had the PRO14 final bringing a lot of people to the club. Everyone was ranting and raving about wanting to start.
"Every young lad and girl wanted to do the same. The Women's World Cup came around earlier this year and the women's team has grown from that."
The club is progressing across all fronts now, and with facilities getting a much-needed renovation in the new year, Monivea RFC is going from strength to strength.
"There wasn't a massive amount of women's teams over the years here because there wasn't the interest for it but that is changing. The girls fall in love with it when they start to play," said Costello.
"Overall we are thriving. We are set to break ground in the new year for a clubhouse once and for all. It will be a big landmark for the club.
"This will be our first proper concrete club house. We have been working out of containers and they have been there longer than I have. So it's all good news going forward."
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