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Off-field grand plans feeding our hunger for silverware

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St. Marys rugby

St. Marys rugby

St. Marys rugby

Founded in 1943 in the shadow of St Mary's Cathedral in the heart of St Francis Abbey in Limerick City, St Mary's RFC this season celebrates its 70th anniversary.

In the early 1940s St Mary's, like most junior clubs, did not have a playing pitch for home games and so depended on the goodwill of others to fulfil their fixtures. Many playing areas were used for home matches including Scouts Field, Slattery's Paddock, Regan's Field, and Nash's Field before they obtained their own pitch at Corbally in the season of 1984/85.

With financial assistance from National Lottery grants and indeed Limerick Regeneration funding, St Mary's now boast state-of-the-art facilities, which include an all-weather training pitch and a match-quality floodlit pitch. The impressive facilities were a deciding factor in the club's selection as host for the British and Irish Cup fixture which saw Munster 'A' defeat English side Nottingham last January.

The hard work of club volunteers was also a huge driving force in the club's development, which has been acknowledged by St Mary's stalwart and chairman of the Munster Juniors Committee, Christy McNamara.

"The Limerick City Council, and Brian Geaney in particular, have been fantastic, but we have a guy here, our vice-president Brian McCarthy, who drove the whole development. But for Brian we wouldn't have the facilities that we have and we are very grateful to him," said McNamara.

"Our next phase for development is a gym and then ladies dressing-rooms and toilet facilities. We have planning permission, we're just waiting for the funds at the moment. We'll be relying again on National Lottery grants, regeneration funding and in-house funding so there is plenty of work for us ahead."

Currently lying in second place and five points behind Kanturk in Division 1 of the Munster Junior League, St Mary's are confident they can end their season on a high and add more silverware to their trophy cabinet.

"We played Kanturk before Christmas, losing 20-6, but to be honest, for our standards we were poor on the day," said club president Jim O'Dwyer. "They are a good side and are very hard to beat away but we wouldn't mind meeting them again in the Challenge Cup this year.

"We have a fine squad of players and our expectations as the weeks went on throughout the season got higher and higher. We were promoted two years ago and in five years we've come from Division 3 up to Division 1 so we're making steady progress.

"We've won the Transfield Cup already this year and have high ambitions about winning the Junior Cup and Junior Challenge Cup."

St Mary's won the Munster Junior Plate twice, in 1986 and 1991, and also claimed the Munster Junior Challenge Cup in 1991. In 1968 St Mary's won the Munster Junior Cup for their first and only time, an era of which O'Dwyer has fond memories.

"Brendan Foley, Anthony Foley's father, was 18 at the time and I was the next youngest player after that," he said. "It was very hard in fairness for a Junior Club to win the Munster Junior Cup, because of the Senior Club rules that were there, but I suppose that perhaps made our win even more of an achievement."

On a given Sunday morning St Mary's rugby club host from 70 to 80 youths. "Minis are strong up to U-12s and we struggle with numbers from there on," said McNamara. "Unfortunately, we don't field teams beyond U-16 because we simply don't have the numbers.

"We'd be considered a feeder club," Dwyer added. "For many years every senior club in this town have somebody playing that has come from St Mary's. Former Munster players Anthony Foley and the late Colm Tucker came through our youths and went on to play for Shannon.

"We've always supplied senior clubs with players but we still have a policy where we would like to build for our future," he stressed. "A couple of years ago we had an U-19 team that amalgamated with Shannon and went on to win the All-Ireland. Four from that team are now playing on our junior team so we realise the importance of continuous development."

Fielding a 15-a-side women's team that competes in the Munster Development League, the club's plans also focus highly on rugby development in the girls section. "Sean Noonan and Brian McCarthy started off women's rugby in the club and it has snowballed ever since," said O'Dwyer. "We are very strong at U-13, U-15 and U-18s and have high hopes for women's rugby the future."

With ambitions of promotion in their sights, O'Dwyer puts the club's success down to good old-fashioned team bonding. "There's a great camaraderie with all the lads on the team," he said. "The new guys that have come in to the team have really gelled and I think that's what's keeping them together. There really is a great club thing going on here and I suppose that explains why we are retaining our players and winning on the pitch.

"Mike Storey, our former coach, built the foundations of professionalism before Chris Delooze and Gordon Ryan took over. If training was at 7.0 it meant on the pitch and not driving into the car park and the players have maintained that kind of discipline".

With long-term objectives in mind for St Mary's, O'Dwyer says a strategic player pathway is important for the club's development. "I would love to see a better underage structure with more kids participating. It's very hard to get volunteers to coach at that level but I think if your adults are doing well you'll attract the youngsters and go from there.

"It would also be nice to get the money together to improve on our facilities, win the league and target the Munster Junior Cup and the Munster Junior Challenge Cup.

"It's been a great year for me being president, especially hosting the B&I Cup and winning the Transfield Cup with more trophies hopefully coming our way, so we'll be having a club victory dance this year and look forward to more good times ahead!"

ST MARY'S RFC OFFICERS

President: Jim O'Dwyer

Vice president: Brian McCarthy

Hon secretary: Tim Kerley

Club PRO: Brian O'Reilly

Fixtures secretary: Christy McNamara

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