School links breathing new life into Kerry club
Kingdom outfit thriving as work on their new home and ground improvements go full steam ahead, writes Declan Rooney
There is a lot of work going into building the game of rugby in Co Kerry, and Killorglin RFC are no strangers to earning the hard yards in that game. On and off the field they have sought to improve year on year since they were reformed in 1999 and there is a real confidence that they can kick on again into J1 Division 2 next season.
But in the youth grades there is a lot to be positive about too and, according to club president Colm Conway, their continued link with the Intermediate School in the town is of real benefit to the club.
As well as being the club's figurehead, Conway is also a teacher in the second-level school, where he coaches their rugby teams. Even in years gone by the link was well forged.
"I have been involved in the club since it was refounded in 1999," says Conway. "Rugby was on the up everywhere in the late '90s but it was two stalwarts of the club that reintroduced the game in the local secondary school in 1990, Tom Curtayne and John Healy. They brought rugby back into the town through the Intermediate School in 1990.
"That meant we had a lot of players of the correct age to form the club nine years later. I was captain of the first team in '99. Now I'm the only rugby coach in the school, I'm carrying on the coaching there. It's really the nursery for our club and we get a lot of our players through the school there."
Rugby in Killorglin dates back to the 1880s and the during its most successful era, the club reached the Munster Junior Cup Final in 1932.
There have been a few peaks and troughs along the way, but since 1999 the club has constructed solid foundations in the town.
In the last decade the underage game has been given most attention, and the club was rewarded as Munster's youth club of the year in 2008 and mini club of the year in 2014.
"We have teams all the way from U-8s all the way to seniors," adds Conway. "We have girls playing up to U-12 and then this year the Kerry U-13 girls team was founded. We have some girls playing in that team. It's the inaugural year and they seem to be going pretty and it's a good avenue for them.
"From a club point of view, the good thing is that all of our teams up to U-16 are on their own playing under the club colours. But as in a lot of rural areas our U-18 team are amalgamated and have joined forces into South Kerry along with players from Killarney and Dingle.
"But the real positive is they are playing at a high standard in the Pan Munster tournament. The 18s played against Cork Con last week and it's good to be playing at that standard, which will benefit us down the line.
"There is consistent work being put in right through the grades. We might not be the most successful club but we are putting out teams and we have one cups along the way too."
The first port of call for any stranger to the club is often online nowadays, and anyone who looks into Killorglin RFC via that medium sees a vibrant club. According to Colm, the hard work being put in by the public relations department is a snapshot of what goes on in the club as a whole, with an army of dedicated members to call on.
"We have a brilliant set of volunteers. Our coaches and the committee are all very dedicated. We have two ladies who work hard on giving us a great profile online, which is a credit to them.
"Our club is very much about family and our tagline is #rugbyfamily. We have so many connections through the club even on the senior team we have four sets of brothers on the team and we have lots of coaches whose sons and daughters are playing and then their spouses might be in the committee too. It is very much family-orientated."
To encourage that family ethos it is important to have somewhere to call home, and in recent years the development of the club's new base at Ballymalis has injected fresh vibe to the Kerry club.
Club members from the Eadie family leased some of their land to the club and the work has started in improving facilities.
"This is home for the foreseeable future and we have been focusing on improving conditions for players like changing rooms.
"We have just started drainage work on the pitch as well so it's exciting times for us. We want to build our home there and develop the club from there.
"Having a base and growing our numbers down the line is the aim. We want to bring more people into the club, be they coaches, administrators or players."
With the senior team finishing up for the season recently, tag rugby kicks off in the club next Wednesday to keep the players ticking over, while they also hope to attract some new faces in around the club as fundraising for ground improvements continues.
"Tag rugby is more of a social thing for the summer and keeps the players ticking over but it also brings in people who wouldn't be involved in the club ordinarily.
"We are lucky that we get great support locally from the businesses in the town and our main sponsor Boyle's TopLine are very good to us.
"We run a good few fundraisers throughout the year which are very important to us too.
"We host a few table quizzes and we have a very successful calendar that we run around Christmas time, which is greatly supported by the local businesses and supporters.
"Bringing that kind of funds into the club is very important when you have plenty of teams and are seeking to improve facilities at the same time."
The club are always on the look-out for new talent though, and that anything to help the promotion drive out of Division 3 would be most welcome.
This season got off to a great start for the juniors as they picked up a few wins earlier in the campaign, but after a few mid-season setbacks their challenge fell away.
"We won Division 3 in 2012-'13 and were promoted to Division 2 but we are back in Division 3 again. We were strong team though and the good thing is that a lot of the players graduated through our youth ranks and through the school system.
"We are holding on to a lot of those players and they have been with us all the way along. We have lads in college in Limerick and Cork and that's the challenge for every club.
"We have a bit of a crossover with the local football team and other sporting organisations, but by and large the seasons are compatible and the relationship works very well with them.
"You'd hope to challenge for promotion every year and we had a good run in the cup this year - we got to the semi-final of the Martin O'Sullivan Cup.
"This year, we started pretty well but we picked up a few injuries. We'd be hoping to push on for promotion next season."