No stone left unturned as club seek to hit new peak
Club Focus: Fethard & District
For the players and supporters of Fethard and District RFC, October 1 cannot come fast enough.
It is only five months since their blue and white strip was washed and folded away for the summer, but that time has passed very slowly. Since the team returned to collective training in July, plenty of plans have been concocted and honed in warm-up matches and team sessions all with the aim of nailing down the exit plan out of J3.
Last season was a tough one for the club: after a brave cup run they fell to Killarney in the Martin O'Sullivan Cup final, while they also lost out in a promotion play-off to the Kerry men, which meant another campaign in the third tier.
But instead of wallowing in their near misses, Fethard have decided to hit the 2017-'18 season with renewed vigour and have brought in a few new faces to liven things up in the playing and management stakes. According to club chairman and Director of Rugby, Paul Kavanagh, no stone will be left unturned in their pursuit of promotion.
"We're back in since early July and have three friendlies played," says Paul. "On Saturday we played Waterford City who are a division above us and we were well up after 30 minutes.
"A big thing for us this year is that we have engaged the services of Danny Lamb as player coach, who played in the AIL with Cashel last year. Danny also coaches in Rockwell.
"He has done well so far, and we also have a prop in from England, Michael Roche, who has gotten employment locally.
"Last season we felt we were dominated a bit in the scrum, and in J3 your set-piece has to be strong to succeed. In the play-off Killarney pushed us around, so hopefully that will be a big thing for us this season."
Founded in 2001, a decision was made by the club to give equality to both the men's and the women's game, and as a result both arms of the club are thriving at a local level.
This year that plan came to real fruition when five club members played for the Munster U-18 girls team: Claire Bennett, Dorothy Wall, Jennifer Fogarty, Kate Grayson and Sarah Garrett, while last weekend Patrick Scully played at No 12 for the Munster U-18 boys.
Last season some of Fethard underage girls represented the province at Thomond Park, the Aviva Stadium and at UCD, while titles were secured in the U-15 league as well as the Munster 7s last season. On both fronts the future looks positive.
"I was down in CIT last week to see Patrick play for the Munster U-18s and he had a very good game. It's great for a small club like ourselves to have that sort of representation.
"The girls' success is down to a lady called Polly Murphy, who puts in an awful lot of time and effort. She is club secretary, but she really drives the girls section along.
"Dorothy Wall is on the Irish U-18 team, she's going to France this week to represent Ireland and she is one of the five girls from the club who played with the Munster U-18s this year. It is a huge honour for the club.
"Because we have a good girls structure in the club we don't get a fall-off in numbers when they are 12 or 13, it's more when the girls and boys head off to college and move away that they find it difficult to play on."
STAGGERING While they are still a relatively young club, a real focus has always been given to mini rugby in the area, so much so that Fethard and District was named as Munster's mini club of the year last year. Going on the early weeks of this season they might be in the running to complete two in a row for that award if the staggering numbers seen last week are anything to go by.
"Last Friday we trained for the first time this season with the minis. I had gone around to 15 local schools with flyers announcing the new season and we got big numbers on the back of that. We had between 230 and 240 kids here last Friday for the first night, which was amazing," said the club chairman.
"When the weather gets bad and we move into November you will always have a fall-off in the numbers, but for a starting point that is a great place to be.
"Because the club is only 14 or 15 years old, we haven't yet got the former players coming back with their own kids to help out with coaching, but we have held clinics for the parents to give them some coaching experience. It's vital that they know how to pass on the basics.
"But it seems to be working for us so far. The boys and girls all play together up to the age of 12, but after that they split off into the 13s, 15s and 18s teams, where they compete in Munster."
As with every small club around the province, they rely heavily on the volunteer hours of its members and the generosity of local sponsors. Fethard is no different and Paul hopes that very important support will be rewarded this season.
"We are very lucky to have the backing of Coolmore, whom we have a long-term lease for the grounds, but right across the area the local businesses have been really good to us," he explained.
"Five or six years ago we built a new clubhouse with four dressing-rooms and facilities and two years ago we installed new floodlights to enable us to train and play in the evenings. We have tried to improve things as we went along.
"This season the plan is promotion. We have Corca Dhuibhne up first which will be a good test, but the hope is to get off to a winning start and we'll see where we go from there. We're very hopeful for the new season."