'Promotion would be huge for the whole community'
Division 1B target is on track after strong start to current season, writes Daragh Small
Born and bred on the same road as Woodleigh Park, Highfield RFC president Dermot Godsell is living the dream as the club attempts to gain promotion to Division 1B of the All-Ireland League.
He is steeped in the history of the club having joined as a player when he was just five before he later began fundraising and committee work and ultimately took on the most senior role before the beginning of the 2018-'19 season.
The former bank manager met his wife Helen at Highfield, and his two sons, Eamonn and Rory, both became entrenched in the fabric of the Cork club too.
"I am from Model Farm Road, Highfield is just off that road, and I did play rugby growing up here but not at a competitive level," says Godsell.
"I have been a member virtually all of my life. I had been going up to it since I was a child."
Highfield is based in the western suburbs of Cork City and the rugby club was founded in 1930. It took its name from Highfield Avenue and Highfield Avenue West.
Even though it was still stuck in the junior ranks, Highfield became the first Munster club to own its own grounds, and then after years of hard work behind the scenes they eventually claimed senior status in 1955.
Throughout the 1960s the 13-acre site grew and with facilities for rugby, soccer and squash, it has always been a central hub for the community.
"I remember coming here to Mass in the old hall on the Sunday mornings, long before the church at Dennehy's Cross was built," says Godsell.
"The grounds have changed because in the early days it had a big hall and had a club bar which was back 50 years ago and that was unique then. There was a dance hall for regular dances that helped to finance the club.
"Today we have a rugby club with two pitches, we have an all-weather pitch, we obviously have a clubhouse with hall facilities and bar facilities. We also have a very successful squash club with 200 members. There is a lot going on.
"We are also just after starting building a new gym. That will be 1,000 square feet, we got grant approval for that but we need to fund part of it too. It will be state-of-the-art and fully kitted out."
Highfield RFC hope to have their gym up and running in the summer, which could be ready for their new venture into the depths of Division 1B.
"We are at the top of Division 2A as of Christmas, we are on 41 points as against second-placed Cashel who are on 38. Over the last two seasons we were in the play-offs, in 2017 and last May. Promotion is our main ambition," adds Godsell.
"It would be huge for the whole community. Highfield were unlucky, we were always a contender in the Munster Senior Cup but with the implications of the AIL and all that is attached to it Highfield is now just finding its feet.
"We are hopeful that we will get to the second tier of the AIL this year."
The league leaders travel to Stradbrook for a clash with Blackrock tomorrow, as they look to keep up the momentum for a strong end-of-season finish.
Highfield haven't been able to convert their promising seasons into promotion in recent years but the talent is there and Godsell knows that with a bit of luck it could transform the club for the years to come.
His son Eamonn was part of the squad which won the 2001 Munster league and cup double, while other son Rory claimed silverware on two fronts with the U-18 side in 2006.
The club have produced some outstanding players in recent years, and current head coach Timmy Ryan is a product of the youth system, but moving into Division 1B would entice even more quality to Woodleigh Park.
"We have always had a very good youth structure, it has been the backbone of the club," says Godsell.
"We have some very good players now and that is reflected in the position we are in the AIL. When you go up you get other players as well because it is more attractive for them when you gain promotion. At the moment our total focus is into getting promoted. We are optimistic about that."
Godsell plays golf socially but since he retired from his job in Cork City his major focus now has gone into the operation at Highfield RFC.
His term as president began last May and 12 months on he hopes to have left the club in a far better place.
Godsell is a massive character in the Highfield rugby ranks and was honoured with a club cap for the fundraising work he had done as far back as 1986.
"I only played for a very short time. I was more on the administration side than the playing side of it than anything else," he says.
"I have been on fundraising and all of those matters. I was a bank manager in Cork. I am retired now. I have more time for the presidency now. But it has been fairly demanding in its own way."
It's a club that is booming. Since the new clubhouse opened in 1955, Highfield has taken off. The base on the Model Farm Road is something to be proud of and Godsell is thrilled to be involved as such a pivotal time in the history of Highfield RFC.
"It would be a huge honour to be president when we are promoted to Division 1B. It would be great if that happens this season," he says. "Highfield Rugby Club was a centre point for the local community back when I started out and it still is. The club has always been a special place for me personally and I met my wife here.
"My sons have played for the club and I have always been involved. It's an honour to be president here."