Cup win can inspire Cork outfit after shaky start
Ground development and progress at underage level hint at a bright future for forward-thinking Muskerry RFC, says Declan Rooney
After a tough start to their 2017-'18 Division 2 campaign, last weekend's win over Castleisland in the Junior Challenge Shield was most welcome for Muskerry.
The hints of victory had been there to see in recent weeks as John Horgan's team fell by a single point in three different games to Crosshaven, Kinsale and Old Christians in previous Junior Division 2 outings, but the six tries they managed to run in during their 37-8 win tell us they really found their feet in the cup.
The prize for the victory over the Kerrymen is a cross-city clash with Crosshaven on Sunday week, although a league tussle with third-placed Thurles has to be taken care of in the meantime. It's a busy time of the year, says club official Aidan O'Connor.
"We had a bad start to the season and lost three matches by one point and the other one by five points. That will give you a flavour of what Division 2 is like.
"It has taken a bit of readjusting back in Division 2 alright, but the win over Castleisland has helped, and we're hoping for a cup run this year to help that transition.
"We have Crosshaven next - they beat us with the last play of the game in the league, so we are hoping for a bit of a change this time.
"But the Thurles game is a real big one for us. They have gone well in the last couple of years without actually getting over the line. We are hopeful we can have a change of fortune this weekend."
The two cup games and the Thurles match all take place at Ballyanly, the beautiful home of Muskerry RFC situated near the village of Inniscarra, about ten miles north west of Cork city.
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Impressive This season sees the club putting their new sand-based match pitch to good use after 12 months of redevelopment. "It's great to have top-class playing facilities to go along with their impressive clubhouse, says O'Connor.
"We have spent nearly €150,000 on the ground in the last 18 months, with the assistance of lottery funding. We put in the new pitch with an embankment round it, we are very excited about that. We have just started to use that this season.
"We own two of the pitches and we lease another two, but they are all right beside each other. We had waterlogging problems so that that's why we spent the money. Hopefully it will be playable no matter what the weather now.
"Scoil Mhuire gan Smál, Blarney's secondary school, use our grounds as their home too. That's something we're really happy about. They are producing players that then come along to join us and it's a big plus for us."
Formed in 1978, Muskerry RFC experienced a rapid growth in the size of the club over the years, and based in a sporting heartland there are plenty of options for potential stars of the future.
But the club feel it is important to get the next generation started early, and from the age of six their mini rugby players flock to Ballyanly on a Saturday morning for training. Up until the age of 13 the sessions and matches are uncompetitive with a real focus on giving everyone a chance which teaching them the basics of the game.
"We have a modern clubhouse, with a gym, good dressing rooms and a social area with meeting rooms. We are well equipped now.
"We have had that for ten years or so now, before that the facilities were limited enough. That coincided with the growth in underage we've seen since. We are nicely set up and we have long-term plans to make more improvements.
"We are ten miles from the city, but west of us there is not another rugby club until you get to Killarney. We have players from further back than Macroom, we have a wide catchment area in mid Cork."
But as soon as the players hit the age of 13 they start to make real strides with the club. With teams at all age grades up to junior, where there are currently two teams, Muskerry RFC are a competitive outfit, and that groundwork started at the age of six is paying off now.
"We had a very successful U-18 team last year who won the South Munster League and Cup and those lads are now filtering through to the adult team.
"At U-13, they won their South Munster League too, so we are very hopeful that there is a pipeline of young lads coming through. We think it is something we can build on too.
"We hadn't won a youth cup in seven or eight years so those wins were a real morale boost for us last season."
The flagship team are the J1s though, and after relegation to the second tier was inflicted on them by Cobh Pirates in the final round of last season, they are keen to rejoin the big-hitting junior clubs as soon as possible.
"We were relegated last year after four years in J1 for the first time in our history. The team is a very young team now, we are transitioning to lads that are 18 or 19 now. It's a real period of transition for us now. We'd hope to be back challenging strongly in the next 18 months.
"Blarney Castle and Gardens are our key named sponsor, they put in a lot of money to us this year. And Matt Murphy's Pharmacy in Macroom are our other big sponsor. With their help I'm sure we'll get back there soon."
The various successes at underage are a lift to all of the club's youngsters, but they also have plenty of local heroes to give them encouragement. A big highlight of their season so far was the chance to meet one of the club's former players after a typical battling performance at Thomond Park: Munster prop John Ryan.
"John started out with us as a mini rugby player and then went on to Christians after that. He's from up the road from the club and he always name-checks us, he's great that way.
"He's the big name for all the young lads here. There was a gang of them up in Thomond and he came out and met them all after the match. He made a real point of coming out to see us and they were beyond excited. He's a real inspiration for all the lads."