Growing at all grades has club in good shape
Developing a place for men, women and children has the game of rugby thriving in north Kerry, writes Karen Mulvihill
Listowel Rugby Club has deep roots in the community of the town and its surrounding areas. Players come from far and wide to play for the club, thus bringing together boys and girls from different townlands, who would normally be separated by the GAA club they play for.
These relationships are built from a young age through a thriving mini section, which has seen the junior game grow in recent years, while the club is seen as a standard-setter in how to develop the women's game.
Due to playing numbers, the men's team has amalgamated with some of its neighbours in the last couple of seasons to keep the game alive in the area, but with a thriving underage game set to deliver some talented players, the good times are not too far away.
Listowel currently have two pitches, one on the Tralee road by the Kerry Group factory and the other on the Town Park. They also have grounds at Castleinch in the town centre that are currently under development.
But the main driving force behind the club's hopes for the future is their mini section, which trains on Saturday mornings in the Town Park.
There is an ethos of fun and participation in the club - turn up, train and play. Nobody gets left on the touchline.
Because of this Listowel minis return year on year, some bringing friends along the next season. It is great to see parents chatting on the touchlines while their children learn and improve their rugby skills.
The club's coaches are always striving to improve their skills and they vary from young to old, both male and female. The mix is good and everyone brings something to training.
It is the likes of these volunteers who drive Listowel Rugby Club forward and make playing rugby something that many children now see as one of the highlights of their weekends.
Blitz days are one of the favourite days in the minis calendar. Whether playing away or at home, the children do their best to show their talent and make their watching parents proud. An air of camaraderie has been fostered and developed in all mini sections and the children will make friends and form alliances that will stay with them for life.
The youth section was reformed in 2004 and currently Listowel's U-14s play in the west Munster league, while the U-16s and U-18s play in Munster league.
The highlight to date has been the winning of the west Munster U-16 cup against Tralee in 2013/14 season.
Director of Youth rugby in the club is Dave Fitzgibbon and he is excited by the season ahead.
"The first phase of the Munster league will be completed by Christmas and we will move to phase two in the new year. During the second phase we will play against teams from across Munster.
"This will bring our teams to venues and opposition that we haven't come across in the past as well as hosting matches against new opposition, therefore providing a brilliant rugby experience for players."
But it is the girls' section that is Listowel's shining light. Established in 2013, the girls' section was started by Kieran Reilly.
Kieran is the current director of girls' rugby, and a brother of Irish second-row Maz Reilly. He launched the project on his return from watching the Women's Rugby World Cup in England in 2010 with his family.
After the experience of the tournament Kieran realised that the values of rugby were something that he wanted his three daughters to have the opportunity to participate in.
However, he soon discovered that opportunities were limited, but undeterred he worked hard with other dedicated parents and the committee to develop the girls' section of Listowel RFC.
Since that time the girls' section of the club has flourished with more than 65 active members between the ages of 8 and 18 years, with teams competing at minis, U-13, U-15 and U-18 level, led by six IRFU-trained coaches, passionate volunteers and a dedicated committee.
The U-18 team in particular have seen huge success in recent years, winning the treble last year to be crowned Munster league, cup and sevens champions.
The U-15 team also had success winning the Munster Cup and narrowly missing out in two other Munster finals last season.
The teams' successes have shone a light on players, with two Listowel RFC players, Murine Wall and Rebecca Reilly, being selected as part of the Munster U-18 squad that recently won the inter-pro series.
Currently Listowel have seven senior men playing with an amalgamated side of Listowel/Estuary/Newcastle West/Abbeyfeale that competes in the junior Gleeson league.
So far this side has proven to be a dedicated team with good numbers in attendance at training and a fulfilment of all games to date.
Listowel haven't fielded a senior men's team in two seasons, but they remain optimistic that this is their gateway back into the senior set-up.
This year sees many youths, who have come through the age grade, transfer into senior level, which is the first step towards fielding a senior team again.
"Overall, the club is in a healthy financial situation with dedicated sponsors and membership grows each year," says club president Aidan Mulvihill.
"Many fundraisers are held throughout the season to raise much-needed funds to ensure the development of the club to provide the best standards for our players.
"There is a great community spirit amongst our club, whether it be blitz days, outings or away trips, everyone is on-board to help out and do any job to help make the event a success."
Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.