Open-door policy pays off as Cork club grows
Club Focus: Douglas RFC
For each and every junior club in Munster, tomorrow is a big day in their season as they start off with ambitions of titles, cup runs, promotions and exciting games, and for Douglas RFC it's no different.
Despite joining together with neighbours Carrigaline to compete for the last three seasons, both clubs have their traditional support and unique identities.
Now affectionately known as the 'Baabaas' due to players of different backgrounds coming together to play, they are keen to get off to a winning start this season in J1 Division 3 when they make the trip to Dungarvan.
And while they are team-mates on the pitch at various grades, both clubs are very proud of their heritage, says Douglas RFC president Colman McCarthy.
"Six or seven years ago both clubs had two adult teams, but about three years ago both clubs began to struggle with numbers. We were victims of the economic upturn if you like - guys went to Dublin and London for work and a natural loss through retirements hit too," said McCarthy.
"We are situated side by side so the two clubs came together. It started at U-14s and those contacts made meant it was easy to agree to field a combined J1 team.
"Both clubs are still separate entities and we are both very proud of our clubs. At mini level we are totally separate, but we field together at nearly all youth age groups and adult level.
"We are always keen to recruit new members and get our numbers back up again, but the relationship between the two clubs means we can compete and put out strong teams and have the size of panel required."
Situated in and around so many of Cork's strong senior clubs, it can be difficult for Douglas RFC to keep battling, but they still retain the dream of being Cork's top junior club.
McCarthy says that having the reputation as a community club and being a great place to learn the ropes of the game is key to their identity and future growth, and he thinks their links with the local schools will pay dividends down the line.
"There are a lot of senior clubs in south Cork and then you have the likes of Crosshaven and Old Christians not too far away. There is a lot of choice for players, but we'd like to see ourselves occupying a niche.
"Our ultimate aim is to be the best junior club in the south of Cork. With help from Munster Rugby we will be going into the local schools in the area again.
"We want to try and encourage people to start playing rugby, maybe even tag rugby in the schools, and then they can come on down to the local club and give it a go."
In recent weeks Douglas RFC has been proud to see two of its own go on to great things with the province, as club players Chimdi Oji and Eoin Quilter pulled on the red shirt for the Munster U-18 clubs and Munster U-18 schools teams respectively.
According to McCarthy, it shows all of the club's volunteers that they are on the right track.
"Having the couple of lads playing with Munster U-18s this year is huge for us. Eoin is a Pres student and has learned a lot of his rugby playing with them, but Chimdi really is a home-grown talent and has played all his rugby with us.
"The coaching is obviously paying off and we'll take some credit for both of their progress."
At the other end of the spectrum Douglas RFC also caters for those rugby players whose boots and gum-shields have become a little under-used in recent years.
The Douglas Dinosaurs, as they are so aptly named, are a long way from competing in an organised veterans league, but according to McCarthy - who resurrects his playing days for the Dinosaurs - it is a great social event for former players who can still run around.
"It started five or six years ago when we sent a golden-oldies team to Crosshaven. For older players it was a way to get the boots on again, get out and have a bit of craic.
"There is no structured competition in the Cork area, but we are planning a trip to Lyon at the end of the season to play a team that toured here four years ago.
"There is a worldwide golden-oldies movement with its own set of rules, it's not as physical as the junior and senior version, so it's very enjoyable for former players."
When one mentions Douglas RFC, the 'Tinny Shed' is also not far from the conversation, and the St Columba's Hall at the heart of the village still serves as the club's unofficial clubhouse.
Countless away teams have been well taken care of in the Tinny Shed over the years, and McCarthy says it remains central to the club and the community today.
"Operating out of the hall you have St Columba's Sports and Social Club and various clubs and societies. Douglas Hall AFC has its origins there too.
"When we didn't have our own dressing-rooms I remembers togging off there in the dressing-room at the back, but it was always seen as the club's spiritual home. And we continue to frequent it today, we go back there after matches and it's right in the heart of the village and very much part of the identity of the rugby club."
With rugby played in the village for more than 100 years, the aim of being Cork's top junior club is a lofty one, but it certainly seems to be an achievable goal if the correct principles continue to be nurtured.
McCarthy was keen to praise the help of all their local sponsors, including main sponsors Laya Healthcare and Liam Ryan's SuperValu, and with the backing of the community in Douglas he sees a bright future.
"This time of the year is very exciting with all the teams starting off, but we are all hopeful and we hope to be in the shake up come next year.
"We're working hard at all grades to develop the game in Douglas and hopefully the club will continue to grow in the coming years.
"I'd encourage anyone, adults or children, who wish to play a bit of rugby to get in contact with us via our social media accounts.
"The door is always open here and we'd be delighted to welcome new faces to the club."