Ballincollig Warriors RFC: 'We hope it will keep the kids going for the next 20 years'
Fresh development means a bright future for community outfit, writes Daragh Small
Ballincollig Warriors have been a revelation in Co Cork, and the future looks bright for the entire rugby club with lots of work being put in, on and off the field, at Tanner Park.
Jim Nyhan is the club president who was tasked with helping the club through treacherous financial difficulties almost a decade ago.
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He had just joined the committee and became treasurer. And having experienced the darkest side of life in a rugby club, it is so refreshing to watch on as the club leads the way in providing a platform for mini players with additional needs.
Robert Keane came up with the idea in the first place and Ballincollig Warriors was created to cater for all in the community.
"We have a couple of tag teams going on at the moment," says Nyhan.
"Last Friday we had tag for all of the minis. That goes on all during the summer, it is a summer camp type thing for them.
"Ballincollig Warriors itself is exclusively for kids with special needs. They come from all sections.
"One of the lads that runs it is Rob Keane; he has two kids with special needs himself and is a coach with the club. He took it on board to start this and he did.
"The committee rowed in behind and we support any way we can. The coaches jumped at the idea too and it's up and running for the last year and a bit.
"It's fantastic, on a Saturday morning you go down and watch them, just to see them running around the field and playing the game they want to play."
Nyhan is from Farnanes, between Ballincollig and Macroom, and is a retired Garda who has worked in the Garda Credit Union for the past six years.
He dabbled in rugby as a prop but never got fully involved until his son, Robert, pulled on the jersey.
"My young fella played with Ballincollig and Cork Con," says Nyhan.
"He won two U-20 All-Irelands with Cork Con, but he broke his fourth and fifth metatarsal and has been out for the year.
"But he is going to go back in September hopefully, with Ballincollig, and we will see what happens from there."
But soon after Nyhan offered his services to the Ballincollig RFC, he learned the full extent of the difficulties behind the scenes.
"I was joined up and took over as treasurer for a couple of years when we were in despair," he says.
"We had lots of stuff going on in the club. But thank God we have seen the bad times and we are into the good times.
"We could have gone under, we were very close. That was about nine years ago. That club wasn't in a good place."
It has been an amazing transformation and now Ballincollig is planning ahead towards some exciting developments in the near future backed by the sponsorship of Seán and Cormac Quish and family.
Chief among those is the expansion at the 11-acre facility of Tanner Park.
"There is works going on that will hopefully start in the next three to four weeks, which will change our pitches," says Nyhan.
"At the moment, we have two pitches and we are hoping by the end of the year we will have three pitches which will give us two very good pitches and one training pitch.
"There is in the region of €300,000 being spent through fundraising and grants, which is great to see for the club."
Ballincollig RFC will continue to thrive as the next generation like Nyhan's son come through the ranks, while the work of people like Keane will leave a lasting legacy.
"We cater for all, we are one of the few clubs around the country who have adapted the tag rugby for kids with special needs," adds Nyhan.
"We run a mini-section from U-7 up, we have youths, U-18. We have a good ladies section.
"Our ladies team won an AIL cup a couple of years ago and another cup this year. We have a seconds and a first men's team. Our seconds are J3 and our firsts are J2.
"We are staying in the division this year, our first team were in relegation trouble up until the last day but had a fantastic victory that kept us in the league that we are in.
"Our seconds men's team were in the final of the McCarthy Cup, they won it last year and came second this year unfortunately. It's a club that caters for all.
"We are very lucky that we have Ballincollig and the surrounding areas, and we have a good group of young lads coming up through the schools that have played with us and stayed with us.
"Over the years we have had the likes of James Cronin who has played with Munster and Ireland. We are hoping that we will emulate that in the next few years with some of the lads that are coming through."
GAA will always be the main sport in the area but rugby has found its own niche on the back of Munster and Ireland's success.
And the positive relationship that exists between every facet of the community helps the various club to co-exist.
"It's like every town in the country," says Nyhan.
"We are steeped in GAA and rugby history. Ballincollig has all sorts of sports for kids. They have huge basketball, soccer, rugby, football and hurling. It's a super community for sport.
"I see a fantastic future for Ballincollig, once we have our pitches done up this year. It will be up and running and flying for the next couple of years.
"We are hoping the work we will do will keep the kids going for the next ten or 20 years."