Portarlington RFC: 'Port' thrive with 'strong army of volunteers'
A club with plenty to offer, Portarlington RFC has the right structures in place to ensure a bright future, writes Brian Lowry
Portarlington Rugby Club, which was established in 1974, is a fast-developing club that forms an integral part of a vibrant local sporting community.
The Leinster North Midlands outfit fields 16 teams at various age groups and contributes at many levels to the development of rugby in the province.
Port's senior men's team plays in Division 2A of the Leinster League and although they had a difficult 2016/'17 season, it ended on a high when they defeated local rivals Newbridge RFC to avoid a relegation play-off.
Their best season in recent years was the 2011/'12 term when they scooped a rare treble, winning Division 2A of the league as well as the Provincial Towns Plate and Hosie Cup titles.
They have also regularly contributed players to the Leinster Juniors squad with player coach Ross Doyle and prop Cathal Bannon being selected last season. This year is being treated as a development season with a large number of retired players being replaced by players graduating from the club's youth's system. The transitional period is being overseen by head coach Adrian Hanley.
Women's rugby has always been an important part of the mix in Portarlington and the club is playing a leading role in the development of the current North Midlands Falcons team which also includes players from Cill Dara, Naas and Newbridge.
The side is coached by Portarlington's Keith Shanahan and the bulk of players are provided by the Laois club.
With underage girls teams in the club developing significantly, the future of women's rugby seems to be very bright.
The club's youth's section has recently been reorganised to maximise their numbers and they now field teams at U-14, U-16 and U-18 levels for both boys and girls. Keith Shanahan, who is also the club's youths coordinator, explains that this strategy is already proving to be a positive move.
"Our director of rugby, Pádraig Mahon, has vast experience at club, schools and provincial level and his recommendation was to move from four boys teams to three. This has ensured that we have competition for places, strong numbers at training and an opportunity for all players to develop. Páidí also runs our coach education programme and this means that every squad is being progressed in a coordinated way."
Shanahan is also very optimistic about the development of girls rugby in the club saying: "We now have three youths and one minis girls teams and they are all making great progress. Rugby is becoming a really popular sporting option for girls in the town and so we can only see numbers growing".
Pádraig Mahon is also one of Leinster Rugby's most proactive CCROs and his work in the local primary and secondary schools is seen as being one of the most important factors in making rugby popular in Portarlington.
Portarlington has regularly had players involved in Leinster Development Squads and this season is no exception with exciting talent Devlin McLaughlin leading the way with his inclusion in the Leinster U-17 squad. The club is also very proud of their former youths players Keith Kavanagh and Jordan Fitzpatrick, who are currently playing with the Shannon RFC U-20s side.
Kavanagh previously won the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup with Cistercian College in Roscrea and the club showed great support for their man with busloads of supporters travelling to the RDS for the occasion.
There was also a strong Portarlington presence during last year's Cistercian College Junior Cup and Senior Cup games with clubmen Adam Lambkin and Finbarr Crowley, while Ryan McLaren's involvement with Rockwell ensured club interest in the Munster Schools Cup. As in all clubs, participation and inclusion are the most important elements of development rugby in 'Port' and all of this has led to growing numbers of both boys and girls playing rugby at the youngest age grades.
The club's maroon jerseys with their distinctive dragon design are often visible at Leinster Rugby home matches as Portarlington RFC is one of the strongest supporters of our One Province ticketing initiative. Indeed, they have brought as many as 400 players and parents to big European games and their U-12s are always very well-supported when playing in the half-time games.
Portarlington members are also very proud of their contribution towards refereeing in the province. Area coordinator John Dunne is one of their own and he is joined on the refereeing panel by club members Niall Behan, Nigel Fitzpatrick, Keith Shanahan and Fiona McConn, while Clive Wardrop was selected as the ARLB Referee of the Year at the end of last season.
The club also contributes to the off-the-pitch development of rugby in Leinster with former club president Barry Lambkin working as part of the branch's PR committee for the last four seasons. Current chairman Adrian Hennessy feels very optimistic about the clubs future.
"There is a huge amount of work that goes into running a club but we are very lucky to have a strong army of volunteers who look after the day-to-day running of the club as well as our essential fundraising work. We are also very grateful for the support of our sponsors who allow us to succeed in our mission to provide a positive sporting experience to all boys and girls, women and men, regardless of their level of ability or economic situation.
"Our growing number of players is paralleled by the numbers of people volunteering and so we can continue to grow and bring sport into the lives of more and more people".
Grounds: Lea Road, Portarlington, Co Laois
Division: Leinster Junior League Division 2A
Youths and Minis: Under 6 to Under18.
Club President: Jim Coman
Club Captain: Armand Smit