Portarlington RFC: Ambitious Midlands club puts emphasis on next generation
Youth development a top priority in Portarlington, writes Brian Lowry
Pádraig Mahon has plenty of experience in his role as CCRO (Club Community Rugby Officer) with Portarlington RFC.
Down through the years, he has seen the game and his role evolve to what it is today and insists that the level of support and structure around developing the game has sky-rocketed.
"This is my sixth season as CCRO in Portarlington RFC, having started in the role in January 2015," he says.
"Over that time I've seen some major changes in the job, from what had been a somewhat isolated role to the current situation where, under CRO Joe Carbery, we've quite a strong community among the CCRO team in the North Midlands Area.
"We are regularly working together on blitzes, camps and regional squads as well as events like the recent IRFU CCRO Conference."
The role of a CCRO is a demanding one and quite often one that demands a good support network in the club.
Portarlington have gone back to their grassroots and are looking to build from the ground up with Mahon and new minis coordinator Barry Lambkin to the fore.
"This year we've put a major focus on getting things right at minis level in the club with new minis co-coordinator Barry Lambkin coming on board with a long-term brief to build things properly, from the ground up, in the club.
"Minis coaching numbers are way up, we've rolled out a series of in-house fixtures, player assessments plus a pilot project at U-8s level where we're looking at an innovative new way of introducing the tackle.
"Also for the first time we've recently had our senior players come on board as guest coaches with the minis teams as part of organising additional minis fixtures to coincide with Senior Leinster League games.
"At youths level, this year unfortunately we don't have a youths co-coordinator but our director of rugby Gordon Allen has kept a watchful eye on things with our U-14, U-16 and U-18 boys teams (all coached by current senior players) and our PortDara girls teams, where the "From Fledgling to Falcon Programme" sees us having a full range of teams from U-12 girls right up to our senior Falcons team."
With the increasing number of kids now playing the game in the area, it is important that they are introduced to the game properly and coached in a pro-active environment.
Pádraig Mahon has been an avid player and follower of the game from a young age and brings a wealth of experience.
"I've been playing the game for over 20 years now at club, school and college levels and have become more and more involved behind the scenes over that time as various opportunities opened up.
"I started playing at U-10s/U-12s minis level with Portarlington RFC back in the mid 1990s before going away as a boarding student to Newbridge College for five years.
"After this I returned to the club, playing on amalgamated U-18 and U-20 sides with Cill Dara and latterly in Athy.
"While in college in Dublin I spent seven years involved in the running of the rugby club in DIT.
"After this I began to become more involved in the organisation side of things in Portarlington RFC.
"I've held various roles on the club committee and have coached teams from U-13 up to senior level. At area level in the North Midlands, I've coached the various boys and girls development squads and was involved on the area youths and senior committees for a number of years too.
"I went back for one season as coach in DIT and I've been coaching for five years now on the junior cycle in Newbridge College."
He is not afraid to give back to the game he loves and his main job in the club is to go into the schools and spread the word that Portarlington are a progressive club eager to attract the next generation of players.
"I have a total of 21 primary schools and three secondary schools spread throughout counties Laois, Offaly and Kildare.
"I offer these schools a five-week block of rugby sessions in the school followed by a tag rugby blitz at the club in week six.
"I've schools ranging from just 30 pupils up to others with 1,000-plus, so huge differences there.
"One of the things we're working on currently actually is trying to put together a blitz for those smaller schools in the region who just don't have the numbers to put out teams in a blitz against the fifth and sixth classes from larger schools."
There have been some recent milestones in the schools also with 2019 going down as a landmark year in Coláiste íosagáin in terms of rugby.
"After many years' hard work across successive CCROs in the club, this year, for the first time, the secondary school in Portarlington, Coláiste Íosagáin, is fielding rugby teams.
"Three teachers, Éanna Delaney, Liam Hogan and Fintan O'Donnell, have led up the junior boys team currently fielding in the North Midlands Division 3A Shield Qualifiers.
"We are currently working on getting a girls team off the ground with plans to field in the next North Midlands Tier 2 Girls Blitz in December.
"Also a first year boys team will play in the North Midlands Harry Nicholls Cup competition post Christmas."
It won't all happen overnight but the signs are there that Portarlington and the surrounding areas have a bright future ahead.