Historic Clanwilliam taking major steps with mini rugby
Club Focus - Clanwilliam
As the sixth oldest rugby club in the country, Tipperary Town's Clanwilliam FC reaches the milestone of 135 years of rugby this year, having been founded in 1879.
After playing in various locations, the club settled and developed their current home at Clanwilliam Park in 1956. Today, the ground consists of a playing pitch, training area, changing rooms and a large hall with bar and catering facilities. In recent years a second playing pitch and changing rooms have been developed at Collegelands, Tipperary.
The club is thriving at the grassroots level as the club's mini coordinator, Martin Daly, explains: "The club received the Munster Mini Club of the Year award in 2013 and that has come as a result of hard work over a number of seasons from coaches, parents and the growing numbers of kids playing in the club.
"Last season, we fielded teams from U-6s to U-12s and played matches every fortnight in the East Munster region. It was a very busy season, we played over 20 games in total home and away with a big emphasis on fun, enjoyment and everyone getting game time.
"Our U-6/7 section is growing every week, here these eager kids are taught to run, pass, dodge and score in a non-contact environment. This is a joy to watch and with plenty of coaches at hand, they pick up the skills very quickly.
"We have three or four coaches with each age group, this helps every child learn the basic skills of the game in a safe and friendly environment. The coaches place a big emphasis on teamwork, respect for each other, the opposition and most importantly the referee."
First-team manager Andrew Lacey is reaping the rewards of the club's junior section at senior level.
Lacey said: "Last season proved to be a memorable year. Despite returning to the second tier of Munster junior rugby the squad has experienced huge development on and off the field with a winning mentality re-establishing itself amongst the players and coaching staff.
"We reached the final of the Munster Junior Cup for the first time in over 60 years - that was a wonderful achievement. Despite the loss to local rivals Clonmel there has been a real positive effect on the group instilling self-belief and confidence.
"We are extremely proud of the fact that every member of the squad who lined out in the Junior Cup final last May played underage rugby for Clanwilliam. There is massive work being done in our mini section and underage teams and this year we already have introduced four players from our successful U-18 O'Rahilly Cup team from last year into the first-team squad.
"The league remains our focus and gaining promotion back to J1 the primary ambition. The biggest achievement for us in the interim was holding onto 95pc of our squad. Being situated in a rural town like Tipperary poses huge challenges in term of the players who inevitably travel to Dublin, Cork and Limerick for educational or employment purposes.
"But rugby in Tipperary is particularly strong at the moment and within a 30-mile radius there is a high concentration of very strong clubs including Kilfeacle, Cashel, Clonmel, Thurles, Galbally and Nenagh."
The club has produced players of the highest calibre for Munster and Ireland, as youth officer Morgan Mooney outlines: "A number of players from the club have attained representative honours, the most well-known being Alan Quinlan with 27 international caps.
"Alan's cousin David Quinlan has captained the Irish Clubs side while the next generation of Quinlans sees Brendan in the current Munster U20 squad. Tommy O'Donnell started in Clanwilliam.
"John Lacey is keeping the officiating side of the club to the fore as an IRB international referee. For international women's rugby, Aimee Leigh Murphy-Crowe had a wonderful 2013/14 season scoring many tries with the Irish Sevens team."
Over the years, Clanwilliam have enjoyed a number of notable successes, the Munster Junior Cup triumph in 1947 being the highlight.
Another great day in the club's history was winning the Munster Challenge Cup in 1996. Besides the two Munster successes, the club have a number of wins in regional competitions such as the Mansergh, Garryowen and Evans cups.
The club continues to strengthen in more ways than one: a gym was built last year for the adult and developing players. At senior level, the focus is not just on the first team, as Lacey explains.
"Last year we re-energised our seconds squad and entered the Gleeson league for the first time. It was seen as an integral part of our success and helped develop players who needed to be playing regular rugby before they fall through the cracks sometimes created by the five-sub rule in the junior competitions.
"With Christy Neylon in his second year as head coach we are very lucky to have someone of his calibre and experience involved."
Despite winning the Munster Mini Club of the Year, coordinator Daly is by no means resting on his laurels with new members always welcome.
"We are always looking for new players at all age groups to join in the fun, learn new skills and make new friends," said Daly. "Clan promotes rugby with primary schools with tag rugby and coaching taking place in a number of schools in early September.
"This season a new development is to introduce tag rugby for girls U-12 on Saturday mornings. Girls Over-13s also train and play contact rugby every Saturday morning. With the recent success of the Irish ladies team during the summer this is another area of the club that will experience growth in the future."
Clanwilliam welcome countless teams every season and Daly explained the club prides itself on the hospitality it provides.
"We pride ourselves on looking after any club that visits, as once the games are over, having the chat over a cup of hot tea on a cold winter's morning is really what it is all about."
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