Saturday 16 December 2017

A mine of talent that continues to produce

Giving youngsters some rugby and life lessons is the key to the success of the Kerry club.

Castleisland’s U-14 players.
Castleisland’s U-14 players.

Declan Rooney

When JJ Hanrahan left Munster to join Northampton Saints two seasons ago, there was much disappointment in the province that one of their own had to join another team.

That was felt acutely in Castleisland RFC, his local club, but the Kerry side never lost touch with Hanrahan. Last season their U-16 team went to Franklin's Gardens to see their hero play, but now that he is planning his return to Thomond Park this summer, the excitement is building round Castleisland and Currow again.

Players going through their paces at training. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Players going through their paces at training. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Along with Hanrahan, another Castleisland player, Sean McCarthy, is currently part of the Munster senior set-up, while the latest line is Jack Daly, who represented the Munster U-19s this year.

Since the days of Mick Galwey the club has had a steady stream of talent making their way from the red and blue of Castleisland into the red of Munster, and according to club secretary, Bill Horgan, having the belief that it can happen for you is huge for youngsters.

"Rugby is very popular here in Castleisland. We've had JJ Hanrahan for a few years, Sean McCarthy is there now and young Jack Daly who we hope will make the U-20s next year," says Horgan. "Jack's a great lad, he comes down and gets involved with the underage coaching. All those lads help. They generate a lot of interest in the club at underage level and as a result we are as strong as we have been here in a long time.

"JJ is a Castleisland club lad originally. It's lovely when he comes down to the club - it was awkward for him when he was away. He always gave us a couple of nights with the underage groups.

Sam Arnold keeps hold of the ball. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Sam Arnold keeps hold of the ball. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Dedicated "It's tangible then for the kids, they can see if you work hard and if things go right for you and you're dedicated enough, you can do things. And not just in sport, but in life in general."

Tomorrow is a huge day in the season for the club as the junior team face Mallow in a vital Munster Junior League Division 2 clash. This is much more than your typical Kerry-Cork rivalry, with both teams eager to pick up the win that could save them from relegation.

Ennis and Charleville are already gone through the trap-door, but with a possible three teams to be relegated, Mallow and Castleisland are two of five teams that could possibly slip down too.

"I'd like to say we're doing fantastic, but we're not," says Horgan. "If Kanturk go down from the AIL, three teams will go down, so that could put us in difficulty. We're working on the basis that three are going down.

Dan Goggin clears a hurdle. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Dan Goggin clears a hurdle. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

"We're one of the teams that could be caught. We play Mallow on Saturday under lights at 7.30pm in Castleisland and it's a must-win game for us. We're very capable of winning the game - we're hopeful of having the full squad together and we'll be hopeful we can do the business.

"Mallow could do with a couple of points to be safe, they're a bit ahead of us. They need a few points but we need them more than Mallow do. A win would suit us down to the ground."

But with almost 150 youngsters turning out for club activities every weekend, it is the underage game that drives Castleisland RFC. Horgan was full of praise for the club's volunteers, who keep the show on the road, and he thinks the future is safe if they continue in the same vein.

Horgan coaches the U-14s himself and they are all excited about their upcoming West Munster League final against Killarney.

"That game against Killarney is on March 11. They're a great bunch of lads, we nearly have a panel of 30, which is great for us.

Castleisland’s golden oldies.
Castleisland’s golden oldies.

"Between all the grades - we start at U-6s - so all the way up you'd have nearly 150 kids out there. It's lovely to see them all out there enjoying the game. You start seeing personalities at a very young age with them, the will to win and compete is there.

"We try and do something with them every year. Last year we took the U-12s and U-14s over to one of the World Cup games; we were in Wembley to see Ireland play Romania. It was 18 months in the planning, we all saved €20 a month into the kitty and by the time the game came it was only pocket money they needed.

"The U-16s went over to Northampton to one of JJ's games. We do as much as we can with them and I think it is of great benefit to them."

And while the young players of tomorrow get to enjoy themselves on a regular basis in the club's colours, there is still some involvement for their parents too - albeit on a more casual basis - as the Golden Oldies team still togs out.

They have an annual game with a team from New Jersey, Morris Rugby Corporation, while they have also played Portadown RFC on a couple of occasions. A few lessons were dealt out by their opposition of late, according to Horgan.

"The Golden Oldies play a couple of times a year. The team is made up of ex-players or anyone locally that wants a game. We have an annual fixture that we play against Morris Rugby. They come over for Munster's final home Heineken Cup game every year. They were here in the second or third week in January.

"They usually play us under lights on the Friday night in Castleisland and then head up to the Munster game on the Saturday.

"They're a great bunch of lads, made up of guys from all over the world. Their chairman is a Castleisland guy, Seamus Brosnan, who also happens to be chairman of the North American Munster Rugby supporters' club. These guys would put you to shame.

"Their scrum-half this year was 63 years of age and played the whole 80 minutes of the game. Our age profile would be that bit younger, maybe up to the age of 53 or 54.

"Last year we played Portadown too. They came down to Castleisland last April, for a 'feisty affair'. I've played a lot of it in my time and it was as hard and physical a game I've ever played. Those boys were still playing regularly and you could tell the difference."

Tomorrow the juniors will be the focus, then it's the U-14s and the U-16s. But whoever is in the red and blue shirt, they wear it with pride.

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