'The schools in the area have embraced it with open arms'
Hard work the key to growing rugby in Kilkenny, writes Brian Lowry
Being a CCRO (Club Community Rugby Officer) in Kilkenny has its challenges.
A hurling-mad county, Noel Devlin is tasked with spreading the game of rugby in a bid to grab the attention of the next generation.
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It can be a tough sell at time both to kids and indeed schools.
The aim of a CCRO is to get into schools, try give kids an understanding of the game and infuse some of the basics into them.
The hope then is that they will join Kilkenny RFC and begin their playing careers.
With hurling so strong in the Marble City, he has his work cut out but the raw ingredients of passion and enthusiasm are there in spades.
"The job can be challenging at times, a county that's predominantly hurling, it can be hard to change the schools' mindset about rugby.
"However, because of the success of Irish rugby and the provinces and marketing, the schools have embraced it with open arms and when you see a child/ teen develop a skill through rugby and achieve an outcome, it's so rewarding and that's what makes my job as Kilkenny CCRO incredible."
Devlin has almost two decades of coaching behind him in the club and it all started out typically modestly.
He started out along with his son and both have stood the test of time in the club, as he explains.
"I've always had a great love for rugby.
"I started coaching when my son joined Kilkenny RFC at five years of age and that was 18 years ago.
"I got drafted into the coaching set-up within the club and did the various coaching courses in mini and youths.
"I've coached many teams over the years, both boys and girls, and had many a day out up in Energia Park as it's known now, contesting various league finals, winning a few and also losing a few, but that's sport.
"I would have taken many youths teams on rugby tours to Barcelona, Italy, England, and of course the four provinces of Ireland.
"I myself would have been a late starter with Kilkenny RFC and was involved at youths level where I played hooker which coincidentally is my son Ben's position in the club today playing for the J1s."
The job of a CCRO just seems to suit some people and when the position came up four years ago, there was a feeling on both sides that it was a marriage that would work.
"When I was asked by the club four years ago to take up the position of CCRO for Kilkenny RFC, I didn't have to think twice about it.
"I embraced it from the outset as I am very passionate about rugby and to been given the opportunity to work with children/teens and watch them develop a skill-set that they could bring and use in everyday walks of life is what makes my job very fulfilling and worthwhile."
Leinster Rugby is a very inclusive organisation and environment to be around and that is something that the Kilkenny CCRO looks favourably upon. "The environment that Leinster Rugby have created with their staff is fantastic and the support and training that you receive is outstanding, creating a great working-friendly environment.
"I'm currently working in 15 schools a week with another 10 to get to after Christmas, including after school programmes within the community and working with children of all races and ethnic backgrounds along with children with disabilities.
"The programme Leinster Rugby have designed and adapted over the years is an all-inclusive programme where nobody in the schools get left out and that's what makes the programme unique."
Under his watch are Loreto Secondary Girls, Callan CBS Secondary, Gaelscoil Osrai NS, St Johns Snr Primary, Presentation Primary, Bunscoil Mc Cayley Rice, CBS Primary Kilkenny, St John of God Girls Primary, St Patrick's De La Salle Boys, Moonenroe NS, Wandesforde NS, St Mary's Thomastown, Bennettsbridge NS, Gowran NS, Muckalee NS, St Patrick's Ballyhale, Castlecomer Secondary Co Ed, KSP Kilkenny, Danesfort NS, Moin Ruadh NS, St Canices Co Ed, Burnchurch NS.
Not content with that workload in the schools, Noel is also continuing to give back to his club on a number of fronts.
Growing the game, coaching and introducing new initiatives are just some of the areas that he is heavily involved in.
"I'm currently coaching the boys U-14 team who are training and playing well at the moment in three competitions: the South East League, Leinster League and Leinster Cup.
"My main focus for this year was to establish an U-18 girls team which has successfully happened in the club. They have appointed a great coaching team to coach them and hopefully we can progress these youths players, both boys and girls, to play at senior level for Kilkenny RFC in the years to come.
"I would base my success on getting both boys and girls to give rugby a try, to come out to the club and get involved in the sport, make friends, learn new skills and have fun."
Through the hard work of many people in the club including Noel Devlin, Kilkenny RFC will no doubt continue to develop and flourish.
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