Tuesday 24 April 2018

Lots still to play for even after the perfect week

Club Focus: Bandon RFC

Bandon men’s junior team
Bandon men’s junior team

Declan Rooney

It's hard to imagine four brighter days for any junior rugby club than Bandon RFC experienced last week.

On Thursday their U-16 'B' team were crowned champions in the Munster Bowl competition.

Bandon’s U-16 ‘B’ team who claimed top honours in the Munster Bowl
Bandon’s U-16 ‘B’ team who claimed top honours in the Munster Bowl

Friday saw Bandon RFC pick up the local club of the year award for last season's Junior Cup win.

On Saturday the junior team played the first of the three round-robin AIL qualifiers in Ballina, and to crown the dream long-weekend the U-16 and U-18 teams both won provincial silverware on Sunday.

Next weekend the club welcome Ashbourne RFC to West Cork for the second round-robin clash and a win there, added to the bonus point claimed in Mayo, will have the promotion dream back on track.

Club president Ricky O'Sullivan remains steadfast that the drive to transform the club into a senior outfit is a long way from priority number one though.

The growth of women's rugby and the protection of the underage game are his main aims, although he says they will go hell for leather to hit all of their targets.

"For a club like ours it would be a massive achievement to turn senior, and being honest we scratch our heads as to whether or not it's the right thing for us," said Ricky.

"But when you look at it unless you are ambitious and want to go forward then you'll only go backwards.

"It will be lovely to be a very successful junior club for years but young lads want to see ambition and they want success.

Danger

"If you manage to get into the AIL the danger is you become a one-team club, and the other parts of the club could suffer. We want to invest in our underage structure and we have a capital development programme of about €350,000, which we are trying to get on the road.

"We want to try and re-do the dressing-rooms so they cater properly for women's rugby.

"We want to make the club more welcoming for girls to get involved and we want to improve our general facilities to make the club more welcoming for families. We'll just get on with it and try and find the money from somewhere."

As with every volunteer club in the country raising funds is a vital part of their survival and development.

Bandon RFC have been very well supported in the last three years because of their link with Nyhan Motors and ODM Financial Advisers but they are now on the lookout to sign a new partnership.

Ricky says the days of going from door to door with cap in hand are long gone for clubs like Bandon and he says it's up to the clubs to put together an attractive package for potential sponsors.

"We are looking for a new sponsor, but we are very grateful to the support that Nyhan Motors and ODM Financial Advisers have given us.

"We realised that you have to put together a package that shows value for sponsors. No longer can you go around with your hand out asking for a few bob.

"We've tried to work hard at that and I hope that Nyhan Motors and ODM have gotten value for the sponsorship they have given us."

But as well as sponsorship money coming into the club Bandon RFC are keen to put something back into the community too. Next Tuesday morning the club will be awash with budding rugby players as the annual school blitz takes place.

Whether or not it results in an influx of future Bandon RFC players is secondary says Ricky, the main thing is giving everybody a taste of the game, he says.

"In a heartland of GAA we're trying to become a community based rugby club and we have big school blitz next Tuesday, which is funded entirely by the club.

"We'll have 15 local primary schools and 600 kids up in the rugby club next Tuesday morning playing tag rugby for two hours. Hopefully that will sustain the club going forward.

"We are giving them the opportunity to play rugby and it would be fantastic if they do, but if they don't at least they have had an opportunity to see what the game has to offer."

The future certainly looks bright for Bandon considering they had to enter two teams in the U-16 competition this season and both teams won their tournaments.

All the way from U-11s they have strong numbers coming through, but the club president admits he was blown away by last weekend.

"It's not necessarily about winning trophies rather keeping fellas playing the game, although winning trophies is nice though too.

"The 'B' team played some great stuff, and on Sunday the 'A' team beat Newcastle West and scored four or five tries in their game.

"As president standing on looking at it happening you know you won't have too many weeks like this in your life."

All of the club's underage success is a significant achievement and much of it is because of the link forged with the local secondary school Bandon Grammar.

Coach Régis Sonnes will leave the school at the end of the season to return to Toulouse and the search is ongoing for his replacement.

According to Ricky, school and club are keen to continue the relationship and the evidence is clear that the current structure works.

"We wanted to bring a good coach into the town, and Toulouse have gotten Régis back now. But he has done a lot of really good work in the schools developing rugby.

"Some of the kids that played for both Bandon and Skibbereen last week in the U-18 final were team-mates in the grammar school, and were trained by Régis there.

"As a result of the school's success they will probably become a full-time 'A' level school now, and that means we'll need all the numbers we have.

"We may not have access to a lot of the kids as a result and we will need the larger numbers to sustain ourselves.

"Longer term, rugby will be strong in the town because it's played in the school and hopefully they'll all come back together at the age of 18 or 19. That's the wish."

Irish Independent

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