Lack of adult players still our biggest challenge
Fermoy Rugby Club, officially founded in 1970, is located at the old Showgrounds in the heart of the busy North Cork town.
Steeped in history, rugby was first played at Fermoy by members the British army, who, in the 1900s, established their military barracks in what was then a garrison town.
"There was a rugby team in Fermoy when the British army were located here. The club disbanded when they moved out in and around 1922 when the Irish Free State was first established," said Sean Lomasney, former club president.
"Fermoy RFC was reformed in 1970 by founding members John McCarthy, Bernard Hyde, Tom Lawton, Tom Kelly and then club captain Dick Heaslip, father of Ireland international Jamie Heaslip."
Competing at Division 3 in the Junior 1 League, Fermoy is coached by former Ballincollig women's player Clare Rigney since 2012. Clare started out her coaching career with UCC's J3 men's side before continuing on here coaching pathway with Dolphin RFC.
"It was a progressive step for our men's team to take on a lady coach," acknowledged Lomasney. "We were looking for a head coach at the time and we had an interview structure in put place. Somebody mentioned that Clare was a coach up in Dolphin and she was looking for a challenge, so she interviewed and got the job."
"She came highly recommended by Dolphin, who were very sad to see her go and it's easy to see why. She's done great things here, not only with her job on the pitch, but she has been very hands-on in terms of promoting our club through social media and so on."
Commenting on their men's squad Lomasney said they are currently rebuilding following a recent dramatic drop in player numbers. "Fielding numbers at adult level is our biggest struggle. Last season we lost 13 players from the first XV mainly through retirements and players relocating, which has impacted hugely on the depth of our squad. We are this season fielding one team instead of two, which is disappointing, but we are actively working on our structures to increase playing numbers and have seen a lot of new faces this year."
Boasting two Munster representative players in Leah Lyons and Aisling Hutchings, the women's game at Fermoy has had phenomenal growth over the last number of years. Progressing from the development league to their first season competing in AIL rugby, Fermoy currently stand in second position behind Nenagh Ormond in Division 2.
"Rory Buttimer and Michael Lyons, Leah's Dad, started girls' rugby at U-16 and the team has progressed from there to adult level. They're doing great work and they've brought a great buzz around the club. We're very proud of Leah and Aisling and are honored that they are representing our club at provincial level," said Lomasney.
"The Fermoy women's squad are proactive in that they are always looking to know what they can do for the club," added PRO Billy Mulqueen. They also have a great social scene, as well as taking their rugby seriously which is very important. To be honest, you hear nothing but positive stuff around the women's section and we are very proud of their achievements".
With 140 boys and girls involved in Fermoy's mini section and fielding three youth teams at U-14, 16 and 18 age grade, the development of underage rugby has been recognised as a primary focus for Fermoy's growth.
"It sounds very clichéd, but underage rugby is definitely a key element for our future success. We've seen the numbers grow year on year because of our great coaching structures here at Fermoy," said Mulqueen. "There's plenty of competition for sport in this town, so we are well aware that we need to be very proactive in recruiting young players with a long-term objective of feeding those players into our adult team."
"We approached the local secondary schools about getting rugby going. The agenda is to get the players to join the club and it's working well."
"Our recent news is that two of our U-18 lads – Eoin Lacey and Josh Pickering – have been selected as part of the Munster U-18 enlarged squad, which is a huge step forward for a small town like ours," added Mulqueen.
Since its formation, Fermoy has made huge strides in the development of the clubs grounds and its facilities.
"There was originally one playing pitch at the time of the club's formation," recalled Lomasney.
"A second pitch was developed and, probably towards the end of the '90s, we received lottery funds which we used to upgrade our pitches, foothpath, lighting, etc. We received additional money in the 2000s, which we used to develop the clubhouse itself.
"Our pitches are probably the best in Munster. We can play a game here literally 24 hours after torrential rain and as a result – and because of our location – we get the Munster Junior, Women's and Academy squads coming here to train and play matches.
"There are five dressing-rooms attached to our clubhouse, but we still have plans to develop. We're at the maintenance phase at the moment and are very lucky with the sponsorship we receive from local businesses, as well as a lot of community support that helps contribute towards the day-to-day expenditure."
"We'd like to build a function room in time to host events and that type of thing and maybe in time we'll be looking to develop a stand."
In terms of challenges, Lomasney said player recruitment at all levels is always on the agenda and retaining them can be difficult.
"Our objective is promotion and eventually getting up to Division 1 of the league. You have to be winning comfortably in your division to get there, which we are well aware of, and we are working really hard at all levels to achieve this as soon as possible".
Fermoy RFC Committee
President: Martin Duggan
Hon Secretary: Christine Bruen
Club PRO: Billy Mulqueen
Fixtures Secretary: Lil Ahern