Ambitious Clare outfit flying high in Shannon
Club focus: St Senan's RFC
While the famous rugby club on the banks of the Shannon in Limerick city had cornered the naming rights long before 1974, St Senan's RFC from Shannon Town have been forging their own rugby identity since then.
Currently playing adult rugby in Division 1 of the Munster junior league, St Senan's have also been earning quite the reputation for themselves on the underage circuit, and with a thriving collection of boys and girls learning the game every Sunday morning, the future looks bright at Jimmy Slattery Park.
Their home ground in the town was named after one of the founding members of the club, and since then the tight-knit, family outfit have continued with the early family traditions laid down by their forefathers. This year Derek Clancy is president of St Senan's, a role that was also held by his father, Tom, another one of the club's founders. And as the first father and son to preside over the club, protecting the club's ethos and values is very special to him as a result.
"My father was one of the founders with Cyril Kiely and a few others, when the club started off. We didn't realise until it happened, but it's a nice thing," says Derek.
"We have about 17 people involved in the committee. Last year our president Jodie O'Donoghue finished up after four years, and we had a change of coach, which was a lot of changes. I was roped in to the presidency, but I went looking for people to help out before I accepted it. Getting some of our women members involved was a big thing, with all of them involved it has really taken off again.
"We have a fine facility down here at the moment. We have two full-size pitches, excellent changing rooms, kitchen, offices. We have planning permission in for an extension to the facility to install a bar. We are going through the grant process for that, and unfortunately we didn't get it this year, but we'll try again."
With the men's first team in good shape, it is a credit to the club that their seconds team is also thriving. This season under the leadership of David Dunne, more than 30 players vie for action with the seconds and, according to PRO Robbie Hoban, adult rugby is very competitive at the moment.
"The firsts are mid-table this year but we have been hit by a few injuries. It wasn't a great start to the season but we picked up a few good results since," says Robbie.
"This year our seconds are very strong numbers-wise. We are up at around 30 players attending every match for the seconds. That's all down to the great work that's being done by David Dunne. David is seconds coach, but he plays with the first team. He is absolutely fantastic.
"Over the years we've had quite a lot of change. We started off as Shannon Jets underage, and it grew from there into a junior club. At the start we were only playing friendlies against the Limerick clubs. During the 1980s we became just an underage club again, but in the 1997-'98 we reformed and joined the development league.
"We went on to win the development league and got promoted up through the divisions. We won Division 2 in 2014 and we are in Division 1 since. We qualified for the 2015 All-Ireland Junior Cup, which was a great achievement."
As with every club there is another side of the game, which involves the fundraising required to keep the club afloat. St Senan's have been blessed over the years with some excellent sponsors, and this year main sponsor, EI Electronics, is a huge help to them. Another constant is the support of the Shannon Springs Hotel, who feed and warm up the players and supporters after training and matches.
A big attraction at the Shannon Springs is the club's weekly Joker Poker competition on a Sunday night - this week's jackpot is now at €5,500. The 300 Club is also another key element to the fundraising wing, which is crucial, says Derek.
"Over the years we have had one or two main sponsors in with us and they are great to us. EI Electronics and the Shannon Springs Hotel are incredible. Any time we need them they are there. John Gavin and the Shannon Springs have sponsored jerseys, they do food for the underage kids when they are going to matches. We never see a bill from them, they are an incredible support to the club.
"But without EI Electronics too, we would be really lost though. Mike Guiney is great to us. Without that support to us and other local clubs and events in Shannon, none of us would exist."
But all the good work has to start from the ground up and Emma Dillon is one of an army of coaches and volunteers that are coaxing the next generation of St Senan's rugby players into the game. Perhaps it's her creamy hot chocolate and sausage rolls that triggers the interest early on, but once the youngsters are encouraged to enjoy themselves and run with the ball, they are hooked, she says.
"Sunday morning training is pretty busy. We have six teams from U-7 all the way up to U-12s. We have 13s, 14s and 15s at young level," says Emma.
"This year we have the most amount of girls that we've ever had. They train with the boys up to U-12s, with lots of girls playing U-7s at the moment. At that age it's all about passing and running around, but it's brilliant to see them playing together.
"We try to get as much fun as possible into it for the kids. They play blitzes from U-8 up, so they see plenty of game time. The basics are important: passing, running your lines and having as much fun as possible. They love being able to tackle people and not getting in trouble!
"We have an average of 25 kids per team, coming from Shannon, Sixmilebridge, Cratloe, Newmarket, Bunratty and all around. It's a great mix of players.
"A fall-away in numbers meant we had to amalgamate with Young Munster at U-16 and Shannon and St Mary's at U-18 this year. But if we can hold on to this year's U-15s I'm sure we'll have an U-16 team. Parents are so important to us, without them the club wouldn't be here. Nearly all our coaches are parents that have taken on the jobs.
"And one of the founder members, Jimmy Slattery, his wife still comes down on a Sunday morning to help out. All the kids love Mary, and we all know her. That's what the club is all about. It's brilliant."