A new dawn on the bay as home search ends
Dedicated volunteers symbolise Bantry RFC's ethos while talented youngsters point to a bright future, writes Declan Rooney
Big times are just around the corner for the men, women and children of Bantry Bay RFC and the positive progress made at all grades is about to be matched by some significant news off the field as well.
In the coming weeks the club are poised to sign off on the deal to purchase the land required to build their new ground and training centre, which will finally give them somewhere of their own to call home.
Whenever pen is put to paper it will be a huge day for the club, who boast one of the strongest underage structures in the province, and cater equally for male and female rugby players.
A chance to take their progression to the next level makes it an exciting time to be involved, according to club community rugby officer Damien Hicks.
"We're in the process of buying grounds and it's very close. We really hope that will drive the club on to the next level. It's extremely close to being over the line and that will be a huge thing for us," said Hicks.
"What we have at the moment isn't up to the standard we need. We train indoors on a horse arena and we have access to a couple of training pitches in an old secondary school in Bantry.
"But I think the players that come up underage with us appreciate it a bit more when something happens for them. They have seen the struggles we have had.
"We have been producing quality underage players over the years, they have played for Munster and Ireland. The work is being done here and if we had better facilities we could really push this club on another step altogether.
"We have a few really good youngsters coming through. Tadhg McCarthy played Ireland U-18 two years ago and is now in with UCC, he was playing AIL last year at the age of 18. His brother Páidí is a hooker too, and he was on the Munster U-18s this year.
"In the girls game we have Yvonne O'Shea up with the Ireland U-18 sevens, and Andrea Stock, Mary Hilda Hurley, Enya Breen, Rebecca Hayes and Caroline Downey are with Munster.
"The talented players are there, we just have to keep at it."
Currently operating in Division 3 of the Munster junior league, Bantry Bay men's team claimed their first win of the season last weekend as they accounted for Douglas-Carrigaline.
It is an encouraging victory for the team coached by Declan Coppinger, and according to Hicks the raw materials are there for this team to grow into a powerful outfit in the coming seasons.
Promotion might not come this season, but he says the aim is to win a few tight games, coax their younger players into becoming leaders, while attracting some former players back into the fold.
"That win was great for the morale," said Hicks. "This is Declan's first year with us as coach and we have a good few young lads involved too.
"A lot of the younger fellas fell away between 18 and 20 and they are starting to come back to us now. Our oldest fella is probably about 34, but the average is in the 20s - it's perfect to develop.
"We had some great success underage over the years and a lot of lads want to try their hand at the highest level possible and they might have had to move away and play with a different team. But we welcome everyone back at any time.
"Three or four years ago we had to partner up with Dunmanway to keep both clubs going, but it is building again, which is brilliant to see. We are strong now, but this time next year we'll be stronger again. The young lads can see there is something happening."
As well as the men's game, the women's game has become synonymous with Bantry Bay RFC in recent seasons and with five of the club's youngsters on the victorious Munster U-18 squad it shows they are quickly becoming a force in the game in the province.
Hicks' wife Geraldine is also heavily involved in the game, and like she did, he says the club would be delighted to welcome anyone as a player even if they have never held a rugby ball before.
"I'm heavily involved in it myself, coaching the women's seniors, U-18s and U-15s, but the game is strong here. We are seeing great talent coming through in the last three or four years since we started girls' rugby.
"A lot of ladies might never have played the game but they come along and enjoy it. They are still learning the game and we are a relatively young team, but the potential we have is massive if we stick at it.
"I think there are a lot more ladies in west Cork that are interested. Maybe they are afraid to come along, but it totally is a sport that you can take up from scratch.
"We have ten or 11 ladies in our team who had never played the game two years ago, and they are playing at a very good standard now. It's a constant learning process for them, but they pick it up really quickly."
Hicks was quick to praise the work of the army of volunteers that keeps the club ticking over each week, especially the parents that help out in training the teams.
He also paid special tribute to 'The Bantry Bay' and 'The Brick Oven', two local businesses that open their doors to the club every week and feed the teams.
"Those two businesses are huge sponsors - they feed the adult teams after every home game. They are a family that's really close to the club. Last weekend they fed both the ladies and lads, probably the bones of 80 people, which is amazing. Everyone really appreciates that help."
But if you don't have people willing to put their hand up for the long hours of volunteer work, a club will go nowhere. It is testament to the Bantry Bay club members that the club has flourished and managed to produce such quality athletes. Hicks is in awe of their dedication.
"But the club is full of people that give their time. All the work put in by the volunteers is what keeps us going. You couldn't pick out one person - they know who they are and they are an amazing group.
"It's an exciting time for us in Bantry Bay and hopefully we can drive the club on another few steps with the new grounds. It's a big thing for us and we're all excited about the next few years."