Cork club eager to survive and thrive in big league
Club focus: Kanturk RFC
Kanturk RFC is this year celebrating its most successful season since its formation in 1927. Following the recent promotion to the All- Ireland League for the first time in its history, Kanturk also claimed the George O'Connell Cup and managed to retain the Cork County Cup at Musgrave Park for the second consecutive year.
With a unique home record, Kanturk has been undefeated in the Junior League since February 17, 2008, when they lost to Ennis, and has since progressed steadily to its new status as a senior club.
"It's been building for a long, long time," said Michael Breen, club chairman.
"We're a home-grown club and we are blessed with a unique bunch of players who came up through our underage ranks and have also played together at school in Kanturk.
"Credit must be given to Tony Daly who is the main man responsible for our success," added Breen.
He developed the plan of visiting schools to introduce rugby, when maybe it was not the popular thing to do in a GAA heartland. It struggled for a while but Tony kept it going and our playing numbers eventually got bigger and bigger."
With a traditional underage structure Kanturk has set the benchmark of its success of club player development from mini level.
"Every player that is playing for us has come up through our system. We're very unique also in that Kanturk is essentially a market town and secondary schools would feed from other surrounding villages, the likes of Banteer, Newmarket, Kishkeam, Kilbrin and so on providing a big pool of players."
Given their promotion to Division 2B of the All-Ireland League, Breen said Kanturk will not be concerned about retaining their current senior squad going into the new season and are confident they will continue to feed players through the club's ranks.
"The feedback is that all our players want the opportunity to play senior rugby, so we're pretty much holding on to all of our squad.
"The average age of our senior team is 24, so we're in a good position.
"We're counting the numbers on the way up to our seniors back as far as our U-14s and U-16s and I'm delighted say there's plenty of talent, so we won't need to be searching for a while.
"We are lucky enough to have two adult teams. The seconds' team has changed from my day, in that it was then a social team, but now it's a stepping stone for young players into our first squad."
After securing the Munster Junior 1 Division 1 title, Kanturk overcame Clogher Valley at home to quality for the play-offs, and went on to beat Instonions away to gain promotion.
"We played Clogher Valley last year away in the All-Ireland Cup and they only beat us by a point. It was on a very bad, wet day, and it just didn't suit us at all. We knew given our home record, they wouldn't be looking forward to playing us in Kanturk, and we knew we were in with a very good chance.
"We had won before at Shaws Bridge last season which helped us overcome Instonions.
"There were no nerves on the day and we were fairly confident we could do it. It was a nice, dry, wide pitch which we are used to – that helped us hugely and the rest is history."
In what was the most memorable day in the club's history, Breen said you couldn't describe the overwhelming emotions, and acknowledges the hard work from the club's volunteers over the years.
"I'm not joking, the whole place was crying at the final whistle in Shaws Bridge. It's hard to believe only 15 years have passed since we fought in Killarney to avoid relegation. John Duggan played that day and also played the day we were promoted to senior rugby which is a colossal transition for him, adding to all the emotions of the day.
"I was particularly delighted for the older members who have worked down through the years to keep the whole thing going.
"We were in danger of dropping to minor rugby and we just barely scraped through and there we were, a senior club!," he said.
With two directors of rugby, Mike Murphy and Tony Daly, who are responsible for the club's youths and adult rugby, Breen said the club will continue to focus on developing their young players.
"Our target every year for the U-16s and U-18s is to quality for Pan Munster and what is very important to us is that the players below that age grade are simply enjoying playing rugby.
"We've 149 minis playing this year and we have 16 coaches. From age 12 to 13 we have the bones of about 40 players.
"We're not keeping scores, we don't care who is winning or losing as long as they're having fun.
"Our target is to start a girls' rugby at Kanturk. We have girls involved in mini-rugby, but not enough to eventually form a team. Our plan is to sit down and make this our project for next season."
Looking ahead to next year, Breen said Kanturk's objective is to emulate what fellow Munster club Richmond achieved this season, and maintain their senior club ranking in their first competitive season.
"We'd love to survive up there. Our goal is to follow in Richmond's footsteps who wound up 7th overall in the league.
"Obviously, senior rugby is unknown territory to us, but we've a super record at home, so we'll be targeting all our home games for a win.
"We'll tread water for a while and see how we get on and if for some reason after a few years that we come back down again it wouldn't be the end of the world.
"We realise we're only a rural club, but we'll certainly give it everything we've got while we're there and really look forward to the challenge!"