Thursday 14 November 2019

Back from brink and now gearing to celebrate centenary

Club Focus: Waterpark RFC

Peter O’Mahony during training this week. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony during training this week. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Waterpark have returned from the mire of potential bankruptcy to become a force once again in Munster junior rugby. And club president Brian Morrissey has watched it all unfold from the coalface, as he looks to help the next Jack O'Donoghue through the ranks.

Waterpark have returned from the mire of potential bankruptcy to become a force once again in Munster junior rugby. And club president Brian Morrissey has watched it all unfold from the coalface, as he looks to help the next Jack O'Donoghue through the ranks.

"Jack keeps in contact with the club and supports us when he can. I followed him from the younger age groups up all the way up. And he was always an exception, you could see there was something about him," said Morrissey.

"His younger brother has dual status with us and UCC and his other brother is gone off to North America, a big loss."

The 24-year-old No 8 has been capped twice for Ireland and has made 93 appearances for Munster.

Thomas Ahern could be the next Waterford native to make the breakthrough, but Waterpark RFC is brimming with talent, and he certainly won't be the last.

Eoin O'Connor and Ben Daly are two fellow promising talents, and in his seventh year as president Morrissey is determined that these players drive on and become the best players they can be.

"We have got a tremendous mini and youths structure. They have been having massive success in U-16, U-17 and U-18s and have won lots of Munster championships in recent years," said Morrissey.

"It's just the coaches that we have here. They travel up with the same team and they improve themselves, the players improve with the better coaching too. We had three U-18 internationals last year with Eoin O'Connor, Thomas Ahern and Ben Daly. Aherne is 6ft 8in, he is gone into the Munster academy.

"Without a university here in Waterford we are fighting a losing battle to hold on to these players but you want to see them do as well as they can.

"For me, this year I want us to maintain our J1 status. It's not easy, any division in Munster is really, really tough. Also, to increase our membership base and to keep the club from going into any more debt."

Money problems played havoc with Waterpark RFC in the last decade - like so many other clubs - and it took the hard work of people like Morrissey to help keep the club afloat during those really difficult times.

The Clontarf native relocated to Waterford as a youngster as his father was a civil servant and the family moved down together.

Morrissey had played some rugby with Clontarf RFC but when he made the move, he joined up with Waterpark RFC.

But an injury ended his playing career and that paved the way for a refereeing career that lasted 35 years.

Collision

Morrissey refereed in Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland and France, and enjoyed being out on the rugby pitch again after he had suffered a back injury during a collision.

"I retired from playing and still wanted to stay fit. The secretary at the club at the time asked me would I referee a couple of practice matches. I got involved in that and really enjoyed it.

"You are still fit. You are involved in the game. And I met some lovely people. I refereed in different countries and all over Ireland. I had some nice encounters with different clubs and always found them very hospitable.

"I last refereed when the players started passing me out. I finished with the 15-a-side and did a bit of seven-a-side. It would have been 15 or 16 years ago."

But Morrissey always maintained his strong links with Waterpark RFC. The club was set up in 1925 and was originally known as Waterpark Old Boys RFC. They were located at Ballinaneesha.The club moved to Ballinakill in the 1960s and Morrissey remembers the various changes that have occurred at the club while he was there.

"We went from J1. We won the Munster Junior Cup in 1972. We were two years in probation for the senior level, which we attained. We were senior for 22 years," said Morrissey.

"We were actually in Division 2 of the AIL. Then we came back crashing down two, to three, to four. I came in the year we were relegated to junior status in 2009. At that stage they had run up a huge debt because all of the money was taken for buying players and that sort of thing."

Many other clubs around the country did the same and are still dealing with the historical debt, but this was crisis point for Waterpark RFC and it took some dedicated local businesses along with current and past members to help keep everything going.

"We stabilised the situation between 2009 and 2012 and got €100,000 off. We literally stopped paying everybody. In 2012 we passed on the baton to an incoming committee," said Morrissey.

"They couldn't reduce the debt any more. We had it down to €370,000 and then €360,000. There was no president at the time and they asked me to go back in a couple of years ago.

"I went in and got involved. The bank sold on our debt to a vulture fund. It stood at about €365,000. We tried to talk to them. They stopped talking to our chairman at the time.

"We were in constant conversation and it took up until about two years ago when we whipped around. We had a figure mentioned and we did a whip-around with members, past members, companies we are familiar with.

"The local companies took hits. And we got a figure up to €102,000 to service the debt which they accepted. They were aware that we had raised €102,000 but that this money would be returned to those who contributed it if they didn't accept this in settlement of the debt.

They had no chance of getting the original debt so they accepted our money. And we are debt-free for the last two seasons."

Now all the focus is on the future for a great club whose centenary is quickly coming down the tracks in 2025.

Irish Independent

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