Killarney RFC: Kerry rugby continues to flourish as facilities improve
Daragh Small hears how huge voluntary effort spreads rugby gospel in the Kingdom
From training on the side of a hill, Killarney RFC now play their rugby on a brand new sod. Volunteerism has been core to the club's rise with Munster Rugby recognising their brilliant underage work this year.
It's a fascinating project in a place known worldwide for its fantastic tourism. But sport also plays a huge part and rugby is making its mark in a county renowned for its Gaelic football success.
"It's a beautiful place, a superb place to live. We have the best of everything down here," said club president Luke O'Sullivan.
O'Sullivan is a Killarney native who was first introduced to a rugby ball through his work in Dublin but is now firmly rooted back in the fabric of the club is his hometown now.
With nearly 300 members at the end of 2018, the club takes in Killarney and south Kerry, and offers the locals a chance to play or coach in the game, or simply just make new friends through the excellent volunteering that goes on there.
And the project to the forefront of everyone's mind right now is paying off the debt associated with the new pitches laid in early autumn at Aghadoe.
"We laid the pitch about two or three years ago and it had to be re-done," said O'Sullivan.
"We brought in about 2,000 lorry loads of filling from neighbours. We laid the pitch and it didn't quite work out the way we wanted.
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"We had to do additional work in the last five months so that's €100,000. We got €50,000 from the government and we have to raise another €50,000 as running cost for the year. It costs €25 per sod, I don't know how many thousand sods are in the pitch, but you can purchase one-square metre of the grounds. We are usually trying to sell them in bundles of five for €100."
It sounds like a tough target to reach but the strength of the community and local business that's there has really made this achievable.
"We need to raise well over €50,000 and we still have debt from the purchase of the pitch and stuff. The more we raise the easier it's going to be going forward," said O'Sullivan.
"The businesses of Killarney and everyone around here has been exceptionally good to us for the last 10 years. In the last five years we have spent about €800,000 anyway."
O'Sullivan combines the presidency with his full-time job as a laboratory manager in Bon Secours in Tralee.
Prior to this he worked in a hospital in Dublin and that's when he decided to join up with a club in Sandymount.
"I never played until I went to Dublin. I played with Monkstown up there," said O'Sullivan.
"It started off as someone's idea in the pub one night. That we would have an inter-hospital competition."
O'Sullivan operated on either side of the front-row when he played and didn't finish up there until after he turned 35.
"I got to know fellas in Monkstown when I went down to them. I played with them for 10 or 15 years. I played a bit of GAA underage when I was younger but I was that bit heavier than most fellas and not as mobile.
"That is the biggest part of rugby, there is a position for everyone in rugby, no matter what shape or size.
"Even since I came down here, we got a couple of fellas at underage, U-16 or U-18, they would have hardly have been able to run or do a lap of the pitch. They turned out to be very good rugby players."
O'Sullivan returned to Killarney in 1996 and he got involved with the rugby club when his son Brian O'Sullivan started to play there.
Things have changed a lot in those intervening 22 years and Killarney RFC were awarded the Munster Minis Club of the Year this time around.
"We didn't have our own grounds back then, dressing-rooms were fairly primitive, they were in containers," said O'Sullivan.
"Now we have 13 acres. We have spent about €1 million in the last number of years between buying and selling. We still only have a prefab clubhouse. We have a senior all-weather pitch and a junior all-weather and a spare pitch.
"Some of the older members like Liam McGuire, Mike Fuller, even Sean O'Sullivan before that they had a vision of buying their own grounds. But it is hard to buy land in Killarney because it's premium.
"We had a place from the Southern Health Board, it would have been part of St Finian's Hospital at one time. We only had one pitch.
"Conditions in the winter were very poor, very muddy, especially the training pitch."
Diarmuid O'Malley is the current head coach while Peter Kelly is the captain of a very competitive senior men's team who have won four games recently.
Killarney have been represented in the Munster U-16 and U-18 development squads while they have begun to thrive at underage level in the girls section too.
It's the first year that Killarney RFC have put out an U-12 minis girls team while they are also on the verge of fielding up an U-14 girls youths team too.
The club are on a massive high and O'Sullivan is in there at the right time. He is delighted with the way Killarney RFC have progressed in recent years but recognises the fact that this would not be possible without the fabulous work by the volunteers behind the scenes.
"I am very proud to be club president right now, especially when you see the facilities that we have. We are probably getting more organised with more parents involved. Back in the day it might have been three or four fellas doing everything. There is a lot more people involved in the day to day.