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Warriors grow tall from small beginnings

Club Focus: Midland Warriors

Leon Fox in action for Warriors as player-coach Rob Connor looks on
Leon Fox in action for Warriors as player-coach Rob Connor looks on
Midland Warriors’ senior side before a recent victory over Balbriggan

Brian Lowry

Formed in 2005, Midland Warriors are new kids on the block compared to some of their more long-standing Leinster companions. Twelve years ago there was a vision and a plan put in place to set up a club to cater for the wide area surrounding Moate in Co Westmeath.

At the time, areas such as Moate, Castledaly, Ballymore, Rosemount, Mount Temple and Tubber were not being served but their successful birth in 2005 saw that change.

Starting with no grounds of their own and with little or no rugby history in the town, the club had to start from scratch.

One of the men on the original founding committee is current Director of Rugby Graham Ross.

"Moate is surrounded by clubs in Mullingar, Tullamore, Buccaneers and Longford and all within a half an hour radius. West Offaly Lions set up a few years before us and that probably sowed a seed for us.

"There would have always been lads from Moate that would have played rugby but they would have played elsewhere. I played for Buccaneers for many years and there would have been people before me who would have played for them as well. Even though the town didn't have a club, there was always a rugby element in the town."

Since then 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.

Intertwined Having originally started out fielding just an U-12s team that trained on a local GAA pitch, the 2010/'11 season saw the club enter an adult team for the first time when they competed in the Leinster league.

Graham Ross is also intertwined with the club's on-field fortunes since the outset as he explains.

"The original 2005 team at U-12 that started training in the GAA pitch, I coached them and coached them the whole way up along until the time they were able to play Senior. I ended up playing with those lads then at Senior level so it was very much a small thing that built up as the years went on."

That first adult team featured a large number of the original U-12 players from 2005 in the squad. A mere six seasons later and after beating Ardee in a play-off and coached by Carlow native Keith Sothern, the Westmeath club secured promotion to Division 2B of the Leinster League last May with a 26-17 win.

This was the first promotion in their short history and a sign that their perseverance during tougher times in the Leinster League is starting to pay off.

"It was huge. We took a decision when we started that we were going to go in at J1 level and we did struggle for the first few matches but we have found our feet fairly well.

"There was a spine of a team there from the town who had played rugby before. We have always played J1 and the standard has been high but it is paying off now," explains Ross.

However, that promotion-winning season was tinged with sadness for the whole club as at the start of the campaign in September 2016 one of the club's U-12 players, 11-year-old Tim Ross, was tragically killed as he cycled to school.

Tim was the son of club secretary Katherine Ross and nephew of the club's director of rugby Graham Ross.

An inaugural Tim Ross Memorial Cup was contested on St Stephen's Day during that season with over 40 players, past, present and from surrounding clubs all lining out and hundreds of supporters turning out from the local community in a huge display of sporting unity.

That St Stephen's Day cup match is now an integral part of every season for the Midland Warriors going forward.

Following on from that excellent promotion, the club have embraced life in Division 2B and after seven games they have only been defeated once and sit second in the table just a point behind leaders Athy.

That solitary loss came at the hands of Athy three weeks back but wins over Birr, Wexford Wanderers, Arklow, Roscrea, North Meath and Balbriggan have them in strong position at the halfway stage of the league.

Rob Connor came in as head player/coach at the start of the season along with Richie Hughes who joined him on the coaching ticket as backs coach.

Hop Both Connor and Hughes played the majority of their careers with Tullamore RFC, they won Leinster leagues, All Ireland Junior cups, Towns Cup and played in the AIL, all with the Offaly club and the short hop over to Moate has worked out well for all so far this season.

The club have been blessed with coaches. At adult level, a man synonymous with rugby - Jude Lennon - was their first adult coach. The former Buccaneers coach attracted plenty of players and got the ball rolling.

Laois native Neil Culleton took the side for four years in a row and he really built a backbone and set the foundations for the club's promotion last season.

The club is thriving. With no shortage of hard work both on and off the field, the club is in a good place as their Director of Rugby explains.

"Our minis are going very well. In the last five years we have gone from averaging 20 players to averaging 60 players so things have grown massively. The short term goal in the club is to have a youths team.

"Because it is such a new club, we have a small committee and it is primarily players. It is about 80pc made up of players which is nice. It is a vibrant club as result."

Midland Warriors RFC

Founded: 2005

Grounds: The Showgrounds, Moate

Club Colours: Royal blue, saffron and white

Division: Leinster League Division 2B

Minis: U-10s and U-12s

Club Captain: Jonathan Whatley

Club President: Robert Davidson

  • Next week's club focus is on North Meath RFC

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