'Essentially we rebuilt from the ground up'
Rural Waterford club owe resurgence to focus on youth development and getting finances sorted, writes Declan Rooney
The importance of a strong underage structure is crystal-clear at Dungarvan RFC as the rejuvenated club thrives on its healthy focus of developing their players.
Lessons were dearly learned in the late '80s in the Waterford club. When they were in their pomp the adult team was winning Garryowen Cups and in the running for the Munster Junior Cup. But their failure to groom the next generation almost resulted in the club closing its doors.
Things got so serious that they lost their junior status at one stage, but thanks to a concerted effort locally, they started from scratch, put in some solid foundations and started producing and coaching their own youngsters.
That work is beginning to bear fruit at underage with their status as one of the province's top 32 clubs nailed down, although the age-old challenge of retaining the services of players in their late teens remains a problem.
One of the central figures to that recovery was Eoin Phelan, a former chairman and director of rugby, and he is delighted with the talented players they are now producing.
"We have a very good underage structure now, we have mini teams at every age from U-7s, U-8s, U-9s and U-10s with us here every Saturday morning," he says.
"We have very good U-14, U-16 and U-18 teams, and due to the efforts of our volunteers we've managed to get into the elite competition for the top 32 clubs in Munster U-16 and U-18 underage every year.
"Being the only country club in Waterford, one of three clubs in the county, that is some achievement."
Phelan served his time on the field, both as a rugby and GAA player, but it was when work coaxed him back to Waterford that he became involved in the coaching set-up at the club.
Along with current chairman, Trevor Doherty, Phelan and a few others got involved and the rebuilding work began as they introduced an underage structure to the club in the early 2000s.
"We got a good committee together and started to get ourselves organised financially," says Phelan.
"Essentially we rebuilt from ground up.
"Back in the '80s, the rugby club discos were all the rage, and that was a major fund raising tool for us. But times change. The day of the rugby club disco died away and we went into bit of decline.
"But now we have some excellent support from the community. Dungarvan Credit Union are a huge help to us and they help fund our underage work. The same goes for Garvey's Super Valu and the Anchor Bar in Dungarvan.
"Financially we are able to meet our commitments; we can settle ourselves; we don't have to run from Billy to Jack now, and we can build on that funding by getting some great coaches in to the club.
"The club is run well, we have a very small debt left when you look at the facilities that we have and people enjoy coming into the club. That's what keeps me coming back anyway: the people that you meet here."
Whatever you do at underage, a lot of people will always look to the adult game to see how successful the club is.
The 2016-17 season was a mixed bag. They did win a first piece of silverware since their 1980s glory years, the Munster Junior Bowl, but they remain in J1 Division 2 couldn't be attained.
"Our geography is a bit of a challenge, we're out on a limb a bit in the eastern part of Munster," says Phelan. "So when lads go off to UCC or UL, it's hard to draw them back. I have no doubt that if we had all those lads back that we'd be well able to be a senior team.
"But we are very proud of the club, we have a fine facility. We have put in massive work the last few years. We have built state of-the-art dressing-rooms in the last few years, it cost us €300,000, which we put together thanks to the sports capital and our own fundraising.
"We recently did a lot of work around the ground, cut down the trees and opened it up.
"We are situated above the new Greenway in a beautiful area. We couldn't be in a better place and hopefully we can kick on and continue the development we've seen both on and off the pitch."