IT Carlow RFC: Third-level outfit are making major strides in province
Top facilities and superb attitude are putting IT Carlow on right path, writes Brian Lowry
With a population of more than 24,000, Carlow town is a big catchment area in terms of rugby.
Although County Carlow rugby club also have a strong presence in the town, the Institute of Technology Carlow is also a major player in the area.
With more than 8,000 student learners and 40,000 alumni, IT Carlow has earned an outstanding reputation for sporting achievement and state-of-the-art-facilities, with the rugby club very much to the fore of this success.
In the early years, the college was known as Carlow RTC and ever since their inception they have been driven by volunteers, predominantly staff members and students.
The subsequent appointment of a PE teacher in 1973, whose role was to provide a physical education programmes for students, coincided with the provision of the first indoor sports facility for the college.
Following the setting up of the Regional Technical Colleges in the early 1970s, the Higher Education Sports Federation was formed to co-ordinate a programme of sports activities for this new cohort of students in Regional Technical Colleges.
Rugby was one of the many activities available to students and as a result the Institute of Technology Carlow Rugby club was formed.
The mid-1980s saw the club compete successfully in the ICRU (Irish Colleges Rugby Union) leagues under the watchful eye of dedicated staff members Tom Darcy and Jim Nolan, and later Carmel Lynch.
During this time IT Carlow was represented on many occasions on the Five Nations Colleges team in matches against England, Scotland, Wales and France each year.
In 2008, IT Carlow and Leinster Rugby formed a partnership with the development of the BA in Sport & Exercise (rugby) course delivered by experienced coaches and tutors Brett Igoe, Brian Murray and Declan O'Brien.
During the early years of the link, IT Carlow competed in Leinster League Division 3 and 4, before winning a JP Flanagan Pennant in the 2011-2012 season.
The success in the Leinster Leagues was short-lived however, as IT Carlow Rugby Club were forced to focus on the colleges competitions as a number of their players were committed to their home clubs for weekend competition in the Leinster and All Ireland Leagues.
This partnership with Leinster Rugby has led IT Carlow to a successful period within third-level sport which has seen them capture 28 trophies across men's and women's competition, including Student Sport Ireland Division 1, 2 and 3 league titles and as well as the Student Sport Ireland (SSI) Brendan Johnstone, O'Boyle and Intervarsity Cups.
Just last month Wes Whitten and Corey Carty's men's Division 1 team pipped Garda College to capture the Division 1 league title.
Later this month the draw for the prestigious SSI Brendan Johnstone Cup will take place in the Aviva Stadium and IT Carlow will be hoping to go all the way, having lost to Garda College in the televised final almost two years ago.
The women's game has also delivered success and that glory contributed to the establishment of a combined team with County Carlow rugby club in 2010 which sees them now compete in the Leinster All Ireland Qualifying League Division 1, coached by Justin Sharpe.
In total six players from IT Carlow have progressed to represent Leinster (others have represented Munster and Connacht) at senior interprovincial level, while recent graduate Ciara Cooney has represented the senior international side in the Six Nations and the World Cup.
With structures, facilities and personnel in place, and Irish captain Paula Fitzpatrick on the lecturing staff and available to offer advice to players, it is obvious why rugby is thriving in the college.
Central to this success on the pitch is the college-wide culture to provide every student with the opportunity to reach their potential by getting involved in student life.
Those students who may not wish to compete in student sport competitions have the opportunity to get involved in club administration, coaching and refereeing, while others may decide to take part in club-run tag leagues each Thursday evening from 5-7pm.
Former students include Mick Kearney of Leinster and Connacht, Denis Coulson of Grenoble and Connacht, and James Connolly of Connacht.
The college has established itself as a centre of sporting excellence within the south-east region as a result of heavy investment in the development of state-of-the-art sports facilities.
These include: floodlit rugby pitches, a 300-seater stand, a sprint track, all-weather pitches, a multi- purpose sports hall, a health and fitness suite with sauna and steam-room, a high-performance strength and conditioning centre, an exercise studio, a spinning room, a performance-analysis laboratory, a sports science laboratory, and a rehabilitation therapy clinic.
In order to meet the demand on their facilities, work has started on a new €15m sports campus facility and it is envisaged that the south campus will be open to students in 2020.