'It's very important to progress the game in the schools'
CCRO focus: Midland Warriors
When you talk about clubs on an upward curve, Moate-based Midland Warriors are right up there.
Back in 2005, the club was formed in a bid to serve Moate and the surrounding areas.
Now in their 14th year, areas such as Moate, Castledaly, Ballymore, Rosemount, Mount Temple and Tubber now have an established club with numbers right the way through the ranks increasing by the new time.
Beginning with no grounds of their own and with little or no rugby history in the town, the club had to start from scratch. Fast forward 14 years and they are a pillar of the community and on a solid footing with a big emphasis on youth.
Tullamore native Niall Kane is central to the popularity and success of the club. In his role as the Midland Warriors Club Community Rugby Officer (CCRO), he has been crucial to increasing their numbers across the board.
"I have 16 schools at the moment. When I started first I only had eight primary schools but now I have 14 and the two secondary schools. The shoulder has really been put to the wheel the last few years.
"Ard Scoil Chiaráin in Clara is one of the secondary schools and they have had their first ever first and second year boys' team this year and I have Moate Community School as well.
"When I started with the club, they had 25 registered mini players ranging from under 10 to under 12. Now they have under 10, under 12 and for the first time in the club, they also have an under 14 team this year and that all leaves them with just under 90 registered minis."
Kane is in his seventh year as a CCRO having done three years with his home club Tullamore before making the short trip over to the Moate-based club three years ago. The hard-working coach has always had a love for rugby.
"When I went over to start working with Midlands Warriors I decided to start playing with them. I have sort of taken a backward step this year in terms of playing with them because I'm so busy with the coaching," he says.
"I'm from Tullamore originally and I would have played with Tullamore from the age of five the whole way up along. I have played with the seconds and a few games with the firsts over the years but nothing major."
Kane is backed by a very supportive club and committee. The hard work ethos is not confined to the pitch and thanks to huge dedication and commitment from a number of individuals and the support of many of the local businesses and the community as a whole, the club boasts showers, changing rooms, two playing pitches and a floodlit training area and are now attracting players in from further afield as they continue to build momentum.
"There is massive support from the club. I would run primary schools blitzes in the club. We aim to run three or four a year; the mini coaches in the club come down and give you hand with refereeing, marking out the pitches and the organisation."
Coaching is key for the club and they have been lucky to enough to have the likes of Graham Ross, former Buccaneers coach Jude Lennon, Neil Culleton and the current coach Rob Connor all help the budding club go from strength to strength over the years.
A CCRO is tasked with spreading the rugby gospel into his assigned area and Niall Kane is no different.
"As CCROs, we are out on the ground and in the schools promoting rugby.
"We are not pushing it on them but giving them a taste of what it is like with the Tag Rugby and if they like it, we have leaflets we hand out to them about the club and the training times.
"That is basically how I got kids down to the club. It is very exciting for them. They are starting a new sport and it is not a massive transition if they are coming to rugby from the likes of GAA. Kids transition very quickly into it," explains Kane.
One of his big aims for the near future is to see both Ard Scoil Chiaráin and Moate Community School compete in the development cup. With GAA strong in both secondary schools, there is a challenge there.
"What I would like to do for the two secondary schools is to get them into the development cup for next year. That is a big aim for me.
"Moate and Westmeath as a whole is a big GAA county. With rugby on the rise, it is important to progress the game along in these schools as well as the GAA and from talking to the teachers, they would like to see more games throughout the year."
While the numbers of minis are on the up, Kane is also keen to see the increase in girls in the area playing the sport. "We have the girls and the boys in together up until under 12. There are about 15 girls registered in the club and they are in no way out of their depth.
"As they progress on, they go on to the likes of Mullingar or Tullamore because, as of yet, we don't facilitate the girls after that but that is something else I would like to address going forward is to get girls youth teams into the club."
He also works in conjunction with Westmeath Sports Partnership to run a six-week programme for kids and adults with mental health problems with the kids programme (12- to 17-year-olds) called 'twilight' and the adult programme called 'catch me if you can'.