Saturday 19 January 2019

Charleville & District RFC: Rugby finds its niche in sports-mad north Cork community

Hurling win takes toll but Daragh Small hears how good facilities are working in busy town

The combined U-11 and U-12 teams who played at half-time at Thomond Park during Munster’s Champions Cup clash with Gloucester this season
The combined U-11 and U-12 teams who played at half-time at Thomond Park during Munster’s Champions Cup clash with Gloucester this season

Daragh Small

Charleville are the current Munster intermediate hurling champions and with the All-Ireland series now sharply in focus the local rugby club has been badly hit.

Hurling still rules the roost in the north Co Cork town and seven of the players who could have been playing rugby have had to concentrate on their GAA exploits.

However, rugby has still come a long way here. Gone are the days when the players had to use local pubs and hotels as their changing rooms, or when they had to switch between different local farmers' fields just to train or play a game.

Now the newly-named Charleville & District club have their very own facilities, they have become competitive in Munster club rugby and club president Pa Leahy has a positive outlook on what lies ahead.

"We used to be playing in farmers' fields around the town, different places, getting fields ready," says Leahy. "What we have now, we have a fantastic set-up, we have two fabulous fields across from the golf course in Charleville.

"We have seven-and-a-half acres developed now. We have spent over €80,000 on both pitches. We have a nice clubhouse.

Some of the Division 3 League winning team from last season
Some of the Division 3 League winning team from last season

"We were like nomads for years, going for pillar to post and togging out in the backs of pubs, back of a hotel, things like that. There are a lot of clubs like that but we are well established in the town now.

"We changed our name last year to Charleville & District because we have a lot of players from the surrounding villages, we have players coming in from everywhere. We have fantastic facilities now, we have three fine dressing rooms, referee room, medical room. We have a fantastic shower set-up, ladies toilets, men's toilets, we are very happy with what we have.

"Our next move now is to build a gym and things like that. They are all the time trying to develop it. We have good lights for training but they are not good enough to play a match under. That's our next thing.

"It's about getting planning now for proper lighting. Contractors have sized that up and we are looking at about €150,000."

The Charleville and district minis at training
The Charleville and district minis at training

Leahy is a Charleville native who also played hurling in the past but rugby was the most fascinating game in his view. He began playing with Charleville at minor 'A' level when he was 17 and switched between the front-row positions before he gave up the game aged 44.

Next year Leahy will be 50 years involved with the local club, and despite having played for Shannon in a few AIL games, Charleville is where the heart lies.

Lining

"Anyone would be proud to be president of their own club," he says.

Munster’s Dave O’Callaghan (left) and Tyler Bleyendaal alongside Charleville and district club p resident Pa Leahy (left) and Chairman Maurice Bridgeman
Munster’s Dave O’Callaghan (left) and Tyler Bleyendaal alongside Charleville and district club p resident Pa Leahy (left) and Chairman Maurice Bridgeman

"Being president of a small club in Charleville doesn't mean that much because you could be president and at the same time, lining the fields, I am coaching the forwards.

"My son James is coaching the first team. We got promoted last year, we won the third division last year and our second team won the J3 league. We had a double celebration last year.

"We are in the O'Neill Cup semi-final. We were beaten in the Shield final last Saturday. Cobh beat us 15-12. We were short of a few players through injuries and that.

"We could have won it but on the day Cobh were the better team."

Former Munster academy prospect John Madigan, who is now in France with RC Massy, came through the ranks at Charleville.

There a number of other youngsters who have filtered into the Munster underage scene through the Cork club too, and the great work going on at minis and youths level has definitely paid off.

But hurling is still No 1 and Leahy says it's difficult when the GAA teams are still involved so late into the year.

"The hurling would be by far the biggest sport in the town. The hurlers are after going senior. They won the intermediate and they are in the semi-final of the All-Ireland against a Kilkenny team," says Leahy.

"That is affecting us big time because we have seven lads who play both but they are not allowed to play rugby at the moment. We can wish them well, that's all we can do and hope everything goes well for them.

"But we have a lot of crossover between rugby, GAA and soccer. It's like any small village if someone is good at one sport they are normally good at the others too."

As he moves into his 50th year at Charleville & District, Leahy wants to ensure the rest of his presidency leads to even more forward-thinking.

"In the small clubs you are just trying to get people to take positions. In every small club there are the same four or five doing all the work. We have very good workers. We are very lucky with what we have in the committee at the moment, they are good workers and that's very important."

But the future is bright and Leahy is determined to see the younger players given the best possible opportunity.

Hurling will always be the major draw in the town but touring abroad is a unique aspect that the rugby teams can enjoy. It's something that always has happened and Leahy wants more of in the coming years.

"We brought our U-18 to Barnet last year in a tour, we played Barnet. The first team are hoping to go on a tour this year to England soon," adds Leahy.

"Nearly every year we bring one of the underage teams abroad. The U-15 a couple of years ago U-18 last year. We always like to bring them on trips.

"The underage in this club are very well looked after. The youth are the future of the club."

Irish Independent

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