Monday 22 October 2018

West Offaly Lions: Remarkable girls' success highlights big potential

Still in their infancy compared to others in the province, Lions are focusing on youth project, writes Brian Lowry

The West Offaly Lions’ first girls team line out
The West Offaly Lions’ first girls team line out

Brian Lowry - Club Focus

West Offaly Lions may only be in existence 13 years but they have already packed a lot into that time.

Based in Ferbane, close to the Connacht and Leinster border, they began their existence affiliated to the Connacht Branch of the IRFU before moving over to Leinster before the start of the 2010/2011 season.

They were founded in 2005 on the back of a fruitful and popular period of rugby in the local secondary school, St Joseph's and St Saran's.

With huge playing numbers taking up the sport in the school, the next step for the town and surrounding areas of west Offaly was to set up a club team.

The founding committee was made up of chairman Bernard Quigley, secretary Marion Gilligan, PRO Kevin Doyle and treasurer Martin Kelly, while the club have had a constant figure in the position of president since their inception in the form of Peter Enraght-Moony.

West Offaly Lions RFC has had varied success over the years and for a small club in the Midlands, their most notable successes at adult level coming while plying their trade in Connacht.

They were promoted from Division two in 2009 and that set them up for their big success as they won the Connacht Division 1B league in the 2009/2010 season.

Led by captain Ronan Guinan, the Lions created their first major piece of history before being switched to the Leinster ranks the following year.

They also won the U-13 Connacht Cup final in 2010 which was a major lift for the underage section in the club.

That period for the club was special. Success meant numbers were high and the interest from the public also helped the club create a strong presence in the town.

The move to Leinster was greeted with mixed views but as it transpired, they went on to struggle in Division 1B of the Leinster league and after a couple of relegations and players no longer playing with the club for various reasons, they eventually folded their adult team.

Despite no longer fielding at adult level, the youths and minis section of the club is strong.

With boys and girls catered for, the work is now been put in at grassroots level in the hope that the club can rise again at adult level.

One such example is Saul O'Carroll who lined out for Ireland U-18s in 2017 having played rugby with West Offaly Lions from the age of seven right up to U-17.

Their U-12s have also had the honour of playing in the Aviva Stadium as in 2012 they travelled to Lansdowne Road to take on Longford at half-time of a Leinster match.

In recent years West Offaly Lions have travelled to north Wales to take part in tournaments, having success on quite a number of these trips.

Their most recent success was in April of this year where the U-15 boys brought home silverware again.

The U-15s also reached the Leinster Division 2 league final earlier this month but were defeated in that final by Wexford.

With an increase in popularity in the women's game constantly rising, West Offaly Lions, like so many other clubs in the province, have moved to cater for females.

The 2016/2017 season saw the club start a new chapter when they played their first girls' matches, organising challenge games against Birr and Edenderry RFC.

Then, last season, they were confident of having enough players to enter their first girls' team in a Leinster league and what transpired was extraordinary.

This season saw the club enter the girls to play in Division 2 of the Leinster league at U-16 level.

In a memorable voyage for the club, they put in some incredible performances throughout the regular league season and having only been beaten narrowly on a few occasions, they reached the quarter-final.

They then got the better of Athy before going on to defeat Gorey in the semi-final and setting up a final with Greystones earlier this month.

They won the final 22-12 and yet more history was made, this time for the girls as they won the Leinster league in their first year to enter a team.

The girls' arm of the club has gone from strength to strength in such a short space of time.

The aim is to build on this win and make the girls' section of the club even stronger as the years progress.

This is all voluntary work and it's all done for the benefit of the boys and girls to help them in their sporting exploits.

With a lot of sponsors and work going on behind the scenes, the club will no doubt continue to grow and be a major player in the community.

WEST OFFALY LIONS

Founded: 2005

Grounds: Ballycumber Road, Ferbane, Co Offaly

Youths and minis: U-8 to U-16

President: Peter Enraght-Moony

U-15 boys' captain: Nick Cusack

U-16 girls' captain: Zoe Tighe

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