Thursday 19 September 2019

Building from bottom up is paying off on the field of play

With a rapidly expanding membership, Wicklow RFC are acting to ensure the club can cater for the needs of their members in the future. Stock photo: Sportsfile
With a rapidly expanding membership, Wicklow RFC are acting to ensure the club can cater for the needs of their members in the future. Stock photo: Sportsfile

With a rapidly expanding membership, Wicklow RFC are acting to ensure the club can cater for the needs of their members in the future.

A proud club, they stand 55 years old this year having been affiliated with the IRFU in 1963. They have achieved a lot over the years and have always had the foresight to move with the times.

At a time when facilities are so important to clubs, Wicklow RFC have embarked on a development project that, in the words of president Bert Nicholson, is the "biggest and most exciting initiative ever undertaken by this club".

From small beginnings in playing a match against a selected side known as 'the Gorillas', to landing the prestigious Provincial Towns Cup in 2016, they have a storied history, but it is the future they are focused on.

The aim of the Wicklow RFC development plan is to design, fund and construct additional changing-room facilities, including a new treatment room and upgraded referees' room, and a new 160sqm club gym that can cater for the increasing demands being put on the club's facilities.

In 2010, the club had 280 members but now, eight years later, they stand at more than 600.

Along with increases in men's, minis and youths, the club, in the last eight years, has also nurtured in women's rugby, veterans, touch rugby, and members with additional needs who play as the Wicklow Warriors.

The club are looking for donations and have fundraising drives in the pipeline with the dream being to make Wicklow RFC more accessible to the whole community, by developing closer links with local businesses, schools, colleges and community groups.

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They also want to have sufficient changing facilities to allow up to three simultaneous games to be played while having a fully-functional gym to enable player development, which will also be offered to the wider Wicklow community.

It is a far cry from the 1960s. Back then one of the major problems facing the club was finding a home.

By the mid 1970s the club had settled in their current home of Ashtown Lane having previously played at Ballygonnel, Kilpoole, Tinakilly, Newrath, Killoughter, The Beehive, Coolbeg, Rosannagh, Ballybla and Glenealy.

Originally built in 1976, the clubhouse was extended to accommodate previous club growth in 2000 while the club's main pitch was opened in 1994, Ireland hosting U-21 games there in 1995 and 2002.

Upgraded

The club has been transformed in recent years with all three pitches being upgraded, the development of a new all-weather training area, a major floodlighting project, and the addition of tarmac parking areas.

With all that work going on off the field, the club's on-field action has got a major shot in the arm.

Two years ago they lifted the Provincial Towns Cup for the first time in the 90-plus year history of the competition.

They beat Enniscorthy in the final despite being underdogs, and they had their day in the Ashbourne sunshine.

Twenty players from the Towns Cup match-day squad came through the youths and minis set-up in the club.

They only just missed out on promotion to the top division of the Leinster League that year but it wouldn't take them long to sort that out either, as the following season they won Division 1B by a massive 15 points to climb up to Division 1A.

After a fourth-place finish last season, they are also riding high this year and sit in third place in the league with five games to play.

This weekend they take on their great rivals Enniscorthy in the semi-final of the All Ireland Junior Cup having beaten Munster's Kilfeacle and Ulsters Ballyclare en route to this stage.

Wicklow have one of the finest youth and mini rugby set-ups in the province.

They pride themselves on being a family club and strive to bring players all the way through from mini rugby, through the youth set-up and on to the senior teams where possible.

They have won numerous trophies at youth level, the highlight being two All-Ireland trophies, in 2007 and 2008.

Young Wicklow fans can look to Leinster and Ireland player Josh van der Flier for inspiration as the athletic forward started his career with Wicklow RFC.

This year Josh agreed to become the ambassador for the Wicklow Warriors, the club's disability/rugby-for-all team.

Josh is a regular visitor to the club and is a great role model for the kids.

The women's and girls' arm of the club is also thriving. With teams at U-10s right the way up to senior they continue to be at the forefront of the club's activities.

They have almost 140 women playing members between minis, youths and seniors.

The senior women are currently top of Division 2 of the Leinster League with the goal of winning promotion to Division 1 for next season.

On Thursday, December 20 the club have the honour of hosting the first women's Metro Cup final where Wicklow will take on a Railway Union side laden with Leinster and Ireland stars.

Ten players from WRFC youth's rugby have been capped at various underage levels since Barry Lynn became the first in 1999.

All 10 players have gone on to play senior rugby for the club and four are currently in the squad - Niall Earls (who is captain again this year), Eddie Downes, Jack McKenna and Mark Nicholson.

WICKLOW RFC

Founded: 1963

Grounds: Ashtown Lane, Wicklow Town

Division: Leinster league Division 1A

Youths and minis: Kinder level to U-18.

Club captain: Niall Earls

Club president: Bert Nicholson

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