Monday 22 April 2019

'We are getting great buy-in from parents and coaches'

Jamie McLoughlin of Blackrock College is tackled by Oisín Nulty of Terenure College
Jamie McLoughlin of Blackrock College is tackled by Oisín Nulty of Terenure College

The standard-bearer for rugby in Meath, Navan RFC are setting the standards and enjoying doing it in the process.

They stand as one of Meath's most recognised and long-standing sporting clubs. Steeped in history dating back to their inception back in 1925, the club has grown to a force that now finds itself competing in the All-Ireland League.

From humble beginnings, when they ground-shared the pitch in the Navan Showgrounds with Navan O'Mahony's GAA Club and Navan Cricket Club, to their present-day top-class facilities at Balreask Old in Navan, the club have evolved.

Since gaining promotion from the Leinster League to the All-Ireland League in 2009, they have gone on to take it storm in recent years and now find themselves a comfortable Division 2A club, just two Divisions off the summit.

It has all been a work in progress. 2009 was magical for them as between their under 16s and under 14s they also won nine competitions as the next generation provided yet another boost to a club on the ascendency.

Throw in U-17 All-Ireland success in 2011, a Leinster double at U-15 level in 2012 and an U-20 All-Ireland a couple of years back and maybe it's no surprise that they have gone on to unprecedented heights.

Fresh in the door, Evan Dixon is bringing his energy and enthusiasm into his role as Club Community Rugby Officer (CCRO) with Navan RFC.

A proud Navan man, he now has the task of continuing to spread the rugby gospel to the kids on the ground.

"I started in September. The first month or two I was just finding my feet, getting the schedule together and getting in contact with all the schools. I was given a list of schools and had to work my way through them.

"I had great help off the other CCROs and it was just a matter of finding times and days that suited the various schools because they have so many other sports going on as well.

"Navan have a lot of Primary Schools and Secondary Schools and some of them would have two or three classes of a certain year so you are kept busy," he explains.

Dixon only started his role in September but has already hit the ground running. With a BA degree in Sports and Exercise (Rugby) from IT Carlow behind him, the rugby nut was playing in the top tier of the All-Ireland League with Trinity College up until he moved back to his home club Navan this season.

Further to that experience with Trinity, he was also selected for the Ireland Sevens squad in 2017.

Like any other CCRO, his job focuses largely on the schools and hopes to open the rugby door to kids. With 18 Schools under his remit, he has a tough but enjoyable task.

"You have the whole class. Up until now I have been working with fourth, fifth and sixth classes so you would have anything from 16 in a small school to 30 in a big school.

"My main role is to get players from the schools into the club and increase the numbers in the club."

They had a big push the last couple of years to keep the U-18 and U-20 players in the club and that is coming to fruition now at senior level.

Dixon believes the structures in the club for bringing players through is one of the main reasons they have been so successful at adult level in recent years.

"We actually won the All Ireland U-20 back a couple of seasons ago and it is those who have a big impact into the seniors now.

"We are probably one of the few clubs who bring our own players through.

"There was an issue there a couple of years ago with lads leaving the club after under 18 with college and that but keeping them now has been crucial in the two promotions in a row and being third in 2A of the All Ireland League."

With a flair for coaching, he also does a lot of work in the club coaching the coaches by doing workshops on various parts of the game to improve their knowledge of coaching.

With big numbers, a big buy-in was needed from the club to cater for the crowds and Dixon is delighted with how things are going while he hopes to also provide assistance to not only the schools but the club coaches going forward as well.

"The underage numbers in the club are massive. You are talking 40 players playing U-6, U-10 and U-12. Each age group would have that number and it goes down to about 20 with U-16s and U-18s.

"The underage structure is brilliant and we are getting great buy-in from parents and coaches which is good. Each of the age grades have five or six coaches doing the sessions with them.

"I would love to bring in more coach development in the club. I am hoping that before next season begins to do a few nights just with the coaches and to upskill them and giving them a structure to go off."

The facilities are also impressive in the club.

The new clubhouse was officially opened in April 2000 by the then IRFU president Bill Lavery.

It is built on three levels, comprising 10 dressing-rooms, a weights room, a medical room, shower rooms and toilet facilities in the lower ground floor. On the raised ground floor there is a bar and large function rooms.

There are four full-size rugby pitches, complete with floodlighting for training and matches.

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