Friday 20 September 2019

Hayes leads the way as progressive club build for future

Club focus: Bruff RFC

Bruff’s U-20s
Bruff’s U-20s

Daragh Small

There was a time in the late 1970s when Bruff Rugby Club hosted a clash between the ladies of Bruff RFC and AIB, around 800 spectators turned up to watch while Tony Ward was referee on the day.

Eileen Noonan was involved for Bruff and her husband Neilus Noonan is the current president of the east county Limerick club.

"Our first three presidents all died in office," said Noonan.

"The first man died after two years. The next man who sold us the land for the clubhouse and pitches, an ex-British army colonel, he sold us the land for around £1 at the start.

"He was president for about 20 years. He died then and another man took over. He died after about four years.

"After that George Clancy, the referee, his father was the next president and he was first president not to die in office. I am about the 10th or 11th after him.

The first team after winning the Munster Junior Bowl
The first team after winning the Munster Junior Bowl

"Everybody does two years, a lot of other clubs only do one.

"But it is good and I enjoy it, you end up drinking a few more pints than you might normally but somebody has to do it!"

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Noonan moved to Fedamore just outside Bruff when he was six, and he played rugby with the club for 21 years.

His rugby career started with St Munchin's, a lot of his fellow students decided to hook up with Bruff RFC when the club got going in 1970.

Club president Neilus Noonan
Club president Neilus Noonan

However, Noonan was in London at the time and it was more feasible to join the following year.

"I played for Bruff until I was 42 but I was making the trip from Dublin for the first two seasons of that," said Noonan.

"That was no problem though. That time sometimes you would even hitch-hike down on the Friday night, or you would get the train down too.

"Bruff would pay my train expenses and there were a few of us doing it.

"We were a junior club at that time and we played junior until 2004 when we got promoted to senior."

Noonan played across the second and back-row during his career and while Bruff were a junior club he also got to play for Shannon as a dual player.

He ended up winning a Munster Senior Cup medal in 1978 when Shannon defeated Garryowen in the final.

Noonan had featured in the game against Young Munster when Lion Colm Tucker had been out injured.

"This was long before the All-Ireland League and I got a Munster Senior Cup medal when that was a big thing at the time," said Noonan.

"I finished playing in about 1992. And after I finished playing, I got very involved in the GAA here. My sons were playing GAA as well as rugby.

Prominent

"There is a GAA club here. We were very prominent at one stage but like all clubs they have their ups and downs. We are down a bit now. We used to have a senior hurling team but we are back to playing junior now.

"There is that cycle everywhere. You have the parish rule with the GAA, so you can't just recruit players like in the rugby. There comes a time when you don't have a lot of men in their early 20s so your team goes down a bit. Ten years later you could have an influx of guys again, that is the way it goes.

"I eventually finished up with the GAA and went back to the rugby again. I have been back involved in the rugby for about the last 10 years."

Noonan's two sons Derrick and Garreth both played GAA and rugby, while daughter Martha is a camogie enthusiast and his wife also has a massive interest in rugby.

"I am a sportsman at heart, I played hurling, football, soccer and rugby. I am a jack of all trades and master of none," said Noonan.

Noonan dreams of Bruff returning to somewhere near the summit of the All-Ireland League but they have lots of hard work to get through to even get out of Division 2C.

Bruff are third in the bottom tier heading into the Christmas break. They have lost twice this season but their comprehensive 24-7 win over Limerick rivals Thomond at Kilballyowen Park means just five points separate themselves and leaders Ballina.

"The lads had a good win last Friday night, they beat our local rivals Thomond," said Noonan.

"We are hoping to get into the top two and try and get promoted back up. One team goes up automatically, the second gets a play-off.

"Five years ago we were in Division 1B but we slid down the tables a bit. A lot of the players did their final exams and went all over the world to get jobs. A few retired too."

Meanwhile, the youngsters in the club have massive role models to look up to and they don't get much bigger than former Irish international and Lions tighthead prop John Hayes.

Hayes went on two Lions tours, notched 105 caps for his country while amassing 212 appearances for Munster before he retired after a 24-9 win over Connacht at Thomond Park on St Stephen's Day in 2011.

Now Hayes gives back to the club where it all began for him. He is part of the rugby committee in Bruff while he also acts as a scrum coach for the senior team.

He is a permanent fixture on the training ground, passing on all of his experience to the next generation coming through the club which gave him a pathway into professional rugby and so many glorious days in the red of Munster and the green of Ireland.

"John is on the rugby committee and he helps out with the scrummaging. He was on Newstalk's Off the Ball show when they did their show from Bruff recently. John and his wife were interviewed for one hour," said Noonan.

"He comes up to the rugby committee, not the actual club committee, there is a separate rugby committee that meets once a month.

"He gives advice and helps out with the scrum coaching as well. It's great to have someone like that around."

The value of having someone like Hayes and his wife Fiona Steed, also a former Irish international, involved in the club ensures that it won't be long before Bruff RFC is back competing for honours.

The club has made a huge contribution to Munster over the years and with dedicated people involved at all levels it looks set to continue that for many generations ahead.

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