Sunday 20 October 2019

Shannon eye big finish to the season after return to top flight

Club focus: Shannon RFC

Club president Noel Healy with his grandchildren. Credit: Dermot Lynch Photography
Club president Noel Healy with his grandchildren. Credit: Dermot Lynch Photography

Daragh Small

Shannon RFC was founded on February 18, 1884 in the Shamrock Bar in St Mary's, and almost 135 years later a man who grew up in the heart of that historic island parish is enjoying his second stint as president.

Noel 'Buddha' Healy played right through the ranks for Shannon, as well as senior with Munster, and the 59-year-old is thrilled to be at the helm again.

"I met my wife, Majella, in Shannon and I proposed to her outside Shannon RFC. We used to do discos back in the day. That is where we met 40-odd years ago," says Healy.

"There is a family thing about it. I met my wife there and we got married, we have four beautiful daughters from that now. I have a six-year-old grandson, starting out with the minis now in Coonagh.

Shannon’s Charlie Carmody vies for possession in a lineout
Shannon’s Charlie Carmody vies for possession in a lineout

"You are talking about club rugby, it starts with the underage. We have 400 kids. It's hard to believe. But to say I am proud to be president of this great club is an understatement.

"I was president two years ago and I am back now. To go out and see what is happening in Coonagh on a Sunday morning. It gives you a lift and it's great for the future of our club, and club rugby.

"The club has its foundations with the underage and the volunteers that put their time in as well."

Paddy Lynch was one of the five founding members of Shannon RFC all those years ago on the Corbally Road. Lynch captained the first team while Stephen Hanrahan took up presidency initially.

Captain Jade Kriel
Captain Jade Kriel

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The club were junior for about 70 years where they almost acted as a feeder club to now great rivals Garryowen. Shannon claimed their first Munster Junior Cup in 1914.

They eventually joined the senior ranks in 1953-'54 and in 1960 Shannon won their first Munster Senior Cup when they defeated UCC in a replayed final at Thomond Park.

Since then it's been unprecedented success, although the club's seniors have fallen on tough times in recent years. The rebuild is well under way.

"Five years ago they were a bunch of kids that were playing in Division 1B. Every year, year on year, they were getting older and wiser. They brought us up last year," says Healy.

Rebecca Casey gets the ball
Rebecca Casey gets the ball

"Two years ago it was hard to think that we sat on the foot of the table in Division 1B with 11 points, but we turned it around. Our two new coaches deserve a huge amount of praise as well as much as the coaching staff, and the backroom staff.

"But as a past player I have to hand it to our players because the oldest player on our team at the moment is 23, 24 years of age. Five years ago they were 18- and 19-year-olds trying to get us out of Division 1B. They stuck to their guns and they got us out.

Topped

"We went on a run of six or seven wins. The following year we topped the table and went up automatically.

Breda Doheny in action for Shannon ladies
Breda Doheny in action for Shannon ladies

"We are there at the moment and again they are finding it tough against the bigger teams.

"But they are putting up great shows and our next four weeks are going to be tough. We are away to Lansdowne, home to Trinity, away to Clontarf and UCC.

"That will define our season the next four matches. We only have seven left, the next four games will define it for us."

Shannon sit sixth in All-Ireland League Division 1A standings, but they lead the way with nine titles overall. Their most recent success came back in 2009.

Many great players have honed their skills at Shannon, including Brendan Foley, Colm Tucker and Gerry McLoughlin who all played for Munster in their famous defeat of the All Blacks in 1978. Anthony Foley led Munster to their first European Cup in 2006 and the club continue to produce bright talent for the Munster and Irish ranks.

And Healy is hoping new recruit, grandson Danny Hickie, could wear a Shannon and Munster senior jersey down the road, just like he once did.

"I played for Munster for three seasons. I got my last cap when I was 39, I got my first when I was 36. I played tighthead prop, sometimes loosehead," says Healy.

"I didn't find it tough back then. Back in the day I was head doorman in Doc's Nightclub in Limerick, and I used to train during the day. I was doing more or less professional stuff back in the day.

"It was when I came back in 1995-'96 season, Niall O'Donovan knocked on my door and asked me to come back. I had retired in 1990 and I made a comeback after five years.

"Niall encouraged me just to come out and put pressure on the props that we had. The rest was history after that. I gave another four years. I eventually retired when I was nearly 40.

"In my last game the club made me captain. It was against Clontarf and I was coming up to my 40th birthday. I got my standing ovation.

"They took me off on the far side and I got a great walk. A couple of the lads were at the far side of the old Thomond Park, and they had my nickname, 'Buddha 39', on a banner.

"There were a few tears. But it wasn't then it was afterwards. Trying to fill that void. It is tough, I only had a part-time contract with Munster for two years, but I loved every minute of it.

"As all of the lads kept saying to me, I came in the wrong era, I would have loved a go at professional rugby. I would have made it and I am not blowing smoke up my bum."

Today Healy combines life as Shannon RFC club president with his courier business, Healy Couriers Ltd.

"My job as president is made easier by the fact that we only meet once every week," adds Healy.

"There is not a lot of duties. You just turn up on match days and I try and go to as many as I can. I don't find it tough."

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