Friday 15 November 2019

Club Focus: Ambitious approach is reaping rewards on and off field

By investing in future, midlands outfit Longford RFC are setting the standard for junior clubs, writes Brian Lowry

The Longford first team before their first league game this season
The Longford first team before their first league game this season

Brian Lowry

It takes foresight and courage to be a progressive club on and off the field, and Longford RFC certainly tick all of those boxes.

A junior club based in the north midlands of the province, they have really put their shoulder to the wheel in the last few years.

A club's facilities are becoming more and more important with every passing year and Longford have stood up to the plate to be the envy of not only most junior clubs but even others at senior level.

All of their three pitches are all-weather and have floodlights. In the early 1990s they were the first club outside Dublin to have match-standard floodlights and they went a step further last year by introducing a brand new floodlights system.

They were also trailblazers when it came to pitch surfaces in the 1970s, when they were the first club to install Prunty, sand-based pitches, which still serve the club well today.

Last year was big off the field for the club as it also saw the opening of the Hugh Connolly youth centre, a dedicated space for hosting minis and youths players after matches.

It also includes a dedicated medical room and it is all in memory of a club stalwart - Hugh Connolly - who passed away well before his time in 2014.

This year also saw the car park tarmacked while the Mel Diffley memorial 4G artificial pitch was also opened. Mel passed away in 2015 and this new pitch, which has shock absorption, is named in his memory.

All these recent investments are on top of covered stands, an electronic scoreboard, a state-of-the-art clubhouse, a strength and conditioning centre opened in the memory of former club captain Derek Belton, five men's dressing rooms, a physio treatment room, and separate referees and women's changing rooms.

With an influx of youth players coming on stream, the club acknowledged that they needed to put in some investment and it has coincided with a purple patch on the field.

Having got to the final of the Provincial Towns plate in 2016, 2017 saw them claim league glory when they won the Leinster league division 2A title as well as the Midland league.

They made the step up to Division 1B last year and proved their worth by coming third and once again making the Provincial Towns plate final.

Last season was also of note in youths rugby as they claimed the Leinster U-18 Division One league trophy while completing the double in winning the cup.

Longford RFC is one of the most long-standing junior clubs in not only Leinster, but Ireland.

They were officially formed in 1921, although it is believed games were played before that.

Vision

The first president of the club was Dr VS Delaney and his vision set them on the road to their current status.

The club also produced the first IRFU president from a junior club, in 2014, when Pat Fitzgerald was sworn in.

A staunch club man, Fitzgerald still has a strong connection to Longford RFC as a trustee and he was awarded the Mr Boots award in his home club back in 2014.

In 2011, the club invested more than €500,000 to upgrade their facilities to include a gym, conference centre and restaurant.

This venture has since been improved upon again with the recent investment as they continue to thrive on and off the field.

The minis and youths section is an arm they are very proud of.

Take the 2018 U-18 league and cup win and you can see the work being done at underage level coming to fruition.

U-6 to U-20 are catered for and dedicated coaches and club officers are constantly overseeing the development of the club's future flag-bearers.

Before their recent wave of success, 2011 was a year that stood out.

They won the Leinster League Division 2 title while going on to hold their own the following year in 1B.

A Towns Cup final was reached in 2013 when they fell to Tullamore in the decider but it took a massive effort to make that showpiece game.

While they were relegated back to Division 2A a few seasons after that, their recent re-emergence has seen them become a force to be reckoned with in Division 1B again this season.

They have started this campaign in fine form - winning their opening four games - and they are just narrowly behind Suttonians in the league table.

The ladies are also a big part of the club and while they currently ply their trade in the Leinster League, they have also played in the AIL.

For over a century, Longford RFC has helped cast strong friendships, such bonds that can only be found through playing sport.

Consequently, this social glue makes Longford RFC feel like a family.

With so many great players passing through Longford RFC, it was decided in 2009/10 to introduce a novel concept called 'The Auld Blacks' which would keep former players in contact as a society. It helps not only players but anyone who has contributed to Longford RFC over the years.

This concept may have come too late for the likes of their first international - Frazer 'Horsey' Browne - but recent retirees and Longford RFC legends now have a link back to their glory days from a society that will surely only grow in stature as the years go on.

LONGFORD RFC

Founded: 1921

Grounds: CPL Park, Demesne, Longford

Male division: Leinster League and Leinster Seconds League 1B

Female division: Leinster League

Youths: U-6 to U-20

President: Paul Trueick

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