Cup dream still burns as young club aims for top
Club Focus: Mitchelstown RFC
The Munster Junior Cup may have slipped down the ranking slightly since the advent of professionalism, but for rugby folk in Mitchelstown RFC it still remains one of their big aims for the future.
Currently operating in Division 2 of the Munster Junior League, Michelstown exited the Junior Cup last weekend. It is not the end of the world for the Cork outfit, but coming so close to beating one of the province's top clubs has left a sting this week, according to club president Owen Dawson.
"We came within five minutes of beating Garryowen," said Owen.
"We were a point ahead with a few minutes remaining but they got a try, which put them into the quarter-final of the Munster Junior Cup.
"That would have been a big thing for a Division 2 team. When you meet the big boys, clubs that are involved in senior rugby and in Division 1 of the junior, you're up against it.
"It is tough, they have big numbers, but having said that, I think the cup has been a bit devalued a small bit.
"I'd say we had about 100 people at the game on Sunday. Back in the '70s and early '80s the Junior Cup was huge; you'd have three or four hundred people at a game. But a win would have been nice."
Mitchelstown RFC is one of the province's youngest clubs. It was formed 22 years go after a successful foray into Community Games rugby with a team of young boys. Owen was one of the founding members and one of the coaches of that team, and he says it was the perfect introduction for everyone before the club was formed.
"We started off in 1996 and we entered the Community Games with an U-11 team. That how we started and it was a great route into the game.
"A few of us had boys of the same age and they became our first ever U-12 team. That team did very well, worked hard at it and got them out there.
"Some of those boys are still involved in the club and some of them are still playing. At U-18 those boys joined with Galbally and they ended up in the East Munster final, they ended up being beaten by Kilfeacle who won the All-Ireland that year.
"We've just been promoted into Division 2 so we are going pretty well. We are a work in progress, I don't think we'll win Division 2 this year and I don't think we want to right now either. The difference between Division 1 and 2 seems to be huge.
"Almost all of our players have come through the underage structure, maybe 80pc of them have all played minis or youths with us. They are former U-10, U-11 or U-12 players with the club."
But even as defending Division 3 champions the ground work has to be completed for the next generation and mini rugby and the youths game are strong in the club at the moment.
"The minis game is very good right now. We have U-8s, 10s, 12s and 13s this year, which is great. We have excellent coaches who have gone through the coaching structure of the Munster Branch as well and we just get on with it really.
"Everybody that's there now are proficient coaches and very much they have the interest of the kids at heart. A lot more parents are involved than we ever had before which is great.
"The lads were down in Youghal on Saturday for a blitz and recently some of the underage teams played at half-time at Thomond Park. That's a big occasion for the kids, they love it and they'll be talking about it for years after it."
There is varying degrees of success of the club in the U-18s scene, however. The girls team are thriving all the time with a recent explosion in playing numbers experienced, while the boys team has been forced to merge with their neighbours to keep the game alive.
"The U-18 girls team, they're going very well. It is only our third or fourth season with the girls playing but we really are developing well. They had five extra players last week, which was a real positive for us. The more the merrier!
"We have played a couple of friendly games. We played against Ballina Killaloe who would be very strong.
"But like most clubs in Munster we are struggling to field in U-18s boys. We went into partnership with Galbally and Fermoy in the past to make a team on the back of that. Even the senior clubs are struggling to find the numbers for certain underage grades.
"It is hard for players in the late teens. Education becomes very important to them at that age, and once they do the Leaving Cert and go to college they have other things to do too, which is understandable."
Over the years the club has been blessed by several dedicated sponsors including Walsh's Bar, Jackie O'Brien's Tavern and The Bodhrán, while the Firgrove Hotel forked out for the club's first kit. Several other sponsors have weighed in over the years, and Owen praised the town's support for the various fundraisers they've organised as they seek to purchase a permanent home.
"We really have had great support from the town," he said.
"We are always looking for some land close to town, we are always on the look-out for that. We don't own where we have at the moment, but having said that the farmer who rents the lads to us is very co-operative.
"We have a lot of temporary buildings out there but we have all the facilities that you'd need. It is an excellent pitch, which drains very quickly even in the wettest of weather we can play there when more established clubs struggle.
"We have run various fund-raisers over the years, which were brilliantly supported. We're getting in a good sum of money together to actually do the work. Development grants are not available if you don't own the land or a long-term lease.
"If we wanted to put in a permanent structure we'd have to do it all ourselves and there is no point doing that on a rented home ground.
"That's the aim long term, but we're delighted with how the town has helped us over the years. There so much to be positive about."