Club rising from humble beginnings to now take great strides
No stopping this progressive Meath club as they look to the future writes, Brian Lowry
They might be a young club but they are certainly ambitious. Ratoath were formed in 2004 but are busy laying out plans for the future as Rugby in the area continues to grow in popularity.
Ratoath RFC are putting down some new rugby foundations which they hope will take the club to the next level of participation and player development, having just opened a new state-of-the-art pitch at their home ground in Curragha Road, along with co-developing all-weather facilities and floodlighting in the heart of the village, which is nearing completion.
14 years ago, it all kicked off. What started with a chat among locals has turned into a superb, community infused club that offers all that is good about the game.
Founding President Derek Gillen was approached by neighbours and local councillor Nick Killian and asked if forming a Rugby Club would be feasible.
With close friends and neighbours who held a love of the game living in the area, among them fellow ex St. Mary's College RFC senior players, Ratoath had all the talent and expertise needed and so a club was born.
The official affiliation to the Leinster Branch came in January 2005.
The club incorporates a catchment area including neighbouring towns Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne but they put in a lot of ground work to get their name out there in a bid to attract players into the club.
To tap into the increasing popularity of rugby in the area, the club brought Irish international players Maura Coulter, who went on to be drafted onto the committee, Denis Hickie and Malcolm O'Kelly to two local schools, Ratoath and Rathbeggan, and subsequently signed up over 150 children to the club.
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Before long, Saturday mornings at their temporary ground of five acres on the Curragha Road were a hive of activity, with minis and youth players coming out in force to train in the village colours of blue and yellow.
Earlier this decade, the club were at a stage when a senior side had become a viable option. They had developed steadily and were now looking at numbers where it became possible.
After some years finding their feet, they won the McGee cup in 2016 thanks in no small part to a combination of strong coaching and support from then-president, James Finglas.
That win may not have meant as much to a bigger or more established club but for Ratoath RFC it was a big deal and was the culmination of a long journey for a number of senior players in their 30's.
Age catches up on everyone and with a lot of players calling it a day, there was now a new challenge put in front of them to rebuild.
This season, nurtured by new club president Dave Rowland and Captain Ross Gillen, a young new 1st XV has taken to the field and is competing well in the Leinster League.
This bodes well for the future, as the club works to bridge the gap between youth and senior rugby which is paramount for sustaining participation.
After debuting in the Beachy Cup, the new senior team have played four Metro League games this season and been competitive with a win over Coolmine and two tight, one-score losses to St Mary's and Railway Union
Director of Rugby Stuart Hill is adamant that the club is consistently punching above its weight, competing in the North East against larger clubs such as Navan, Boyne, Ashbourne, Skerries and Dundalk, as well as similar-sized clubs like North Meath, Athboy and Balbriggan. Youth teams are also competing well in their respective Leinster competitions.
"Last season, the Under 13s got to the North East final, and the Under 15s won the North East Shield and reached their Leinster schools/youth final.
"So far this season, the Under 13s and 14s have both made it to their respective finals. Mini rugby is non-competitive, with a focus on fun and inclusive participation.
"We have squads at all mini grades from Under 7 to Under 12. New players are always welcome at 12:30 every Saturday at Curragha Road."
Fundraising is always a challenge, but with the aid of sports council grant aid, the club is making great strides.
The temporary training area was made permanent in 2016 when the club was finally able to purchase the grounds it had been renting.
This in turn paved the way for investment in a new sand-based pitch, designed to withstand the rigours of busy winter weekends - the pitch was officially opened by local T.D. Minister Regina Doherty back in September.
The club are not finished there. This is just phase one of an ambitious plan for Curragha Road, with floodlights and a clubhouse containing modern changing facilities and a social space to follow.
The club are also jointly developing Jamestown Campus in the heart of the village, with match grade floodlights and an all-weather astro training area nearing completion.
Chairman Dominic Kenna said "We are delighted to now have one of the finest pitches in the North East. The addition of these facilities is a vital part of rugby development in the area, as we look to grow our membership and appeal to players, parents and volunteers."
They are a club on the rise. With top class facilities coming on stream, the club have built steadily from their modest beginnings.
Grounds: Curragha Road, Ratoath, Co Meath.
Division: Leinster Metro League Division 10.
Colours: Blue and yellow.
Club President: Dave Rowland
Club Captain: Ross Gillen
Club Chairman: Dominic Kenna