Friday 20 September 2019

'I've played for nearly 30 years in all formats and codes'

Leo Cullen issues instructions to his charges before the Champions Cup final. Photo: Sportsile
Leo Cullen issues instructions to his charges before the Champions Cup final. Photo: Sportsile

Rugby is a sport that is played and coached best when accompanied by a strong passion for the game.

In coaching in particular, a coach's enthusiasm and love for the game can rub off on impressionable youngsters and help feed their mini passion at an early age.

Dundalk RFC Club Community Rugby officer Niall Kerley is a man that got that passion infused in him at an early age too.

A member of the Dundalk club since he was 10 and a long-standing player of the game, it is no surprise that he is now working in a field that he feels so passionate about.

This is his first CCRO gig but he comes with a wealth of knowledge and experience received from various sources over the years.

"I'm in my first season with Leinster as a CCRO but I've been involved with different initiatives such as the 'Give it a try' and Women's Rugby World Cup ambassadors' programmes", explained Kerley.

Dundalk RFC are the standard- bearers for rugby in Louth and it is the job of the CCRO to keep the numbers flooding in and spreading the game of rugby to the future generations across the schools in the area.

On top of this, the Dundalk native has also taken on a new club that has been formed in the area - the Carlingford Knights Junior Rugby club.

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The Knights were formed in 2017 to cater for children from ages five to 12 and the official launch of the club took place last October when Rob and Dave Kearney attended a special event to do the honours.

Kerley's experience also includes a playing career that spanned 30 years and that included numerous variartions of the game.

It is that on the ground and real-life experience that has helped him enormously in his role as CCRO.

"I've played rugby for nearly 30 years in all codes and formats at every level.

"It was a case of as the age got higher the jersey numbers got smaller, as I started out on the wing at underage and finished up as a prop."

The schools in the area are his primary focus these days.

He is focused on making sure pupils have the chance to be exposed to the game of rugby and to give them an introduction to a game that may in turn lead to them taking it up as they get older.

He may be only in his first year in the role but he has already made headway and has had a few notable achievements to date.

"This season, my first with Leinster, has had a few highlights. Firstly, coaching the North East Leinster U-18 Girls, where we got seven players on to the Leinster panel.

Competitive

"Secondly, I had one of my secondary schools play competitive rugby for the first time at the Louth County rugby blitz, they are a new secondary school, Coláiste Chú Chulainn.

"They even came away with a respectable one win, one draw and one loss."

Participation is a big thing in Sport and the size of the school shouldn't predetermine your fate in Sport.

The joy something so simple can bring to kids brings immense job satisfaction, as Kerley explains.

"Finally, one of my rural schools, Scoil Naomh Bríd in Omeath, with a student population of less than 100, fielded two teams at the Aldi Play Rugby festival in Ashbourne RFC.

"Every child involved came up to me and thanked me for getting them involved.

"They were also one of the lucky schools to be selected to play at the National Aldi Play Rugby festival in the Aviva on May 22."

Overall, he has nine secondary schools and 30 primary schools in his area in what is one of the biggest catchments for a CCRO in the province. He receives great help from the schools and the clubs and is grateful to be doing a job he loves.

The Dundalk club has a rich history of rugby and Niall Kerley is helping it to continue to make history. Founded in 1877, Dundalk Rugby Football Club are one of the oldest provincial clubs in Ireland, they were also one of the first clubs to affiliate to the Provincial Towns Union, that later merged with the Northern Union and formed the Northern branch of the IRFU that included the likes of City of Derry, Dungannon, Armagh and Stewartstown.

Before the club disbanded in 1912 for reasons unknown, they boasted the remarkable Kidd brothers in their playing ranks.

Frederick W Kidd played for Ireland against England in the first 15-a-side international in 1877 while his brother, also a real talent, was selected to play for Ireland in the 1884/1885 season but declined to line out as he was selected out of position.

The youths and minis are also a thriving section within the club.

Competing in the North East Leagues and in the Metro Leagues, the dream for all those minis would be to follow in the footsteps of the Kearney brothers who are both members of the Dundalk club.

Both men are Leinster regulars and Irish internationals while Rob has also done the club proud in representing the Lions.

They were boasting internationals over a century ago and will continue to do so long into the future as the work looks set to continue in this committed club.

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