Tuesday 22 October 2019

Sky is the limit for ambitious club and its president

Club Focus: Highfield RFC

Cork outfit at the heart of the community and aiming high, writes Daragh Small

The Highfield senior squad who achieved promotion to Division 1B of the All-Ireland League
The Highfield senior squad who achieved promotion to Division 1B of the All-Ireland League

Mark Franklin has dedicated much of his life to his local rugby club, and in 2019 he finally became president as Highfield RFC entered Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League for the first time.

Born on the outskirts of Cork City, Franklin grew up on Model Farm Road, close to where Highfield Rugby was founded in 1930.

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The Highfield U-13s
The Highfield U-13s

Taking its name from Highfield Avenue and Highfield Avenue West, they went on to become the first Munster club to own their grounds while still in the junior rugby ranks.

"I only lived five minutes' walk from Highfield RFC," said Franklin. "That is where I am from and it is where I grew up.

"I am still living in Cork, on the other side of the city, but before I got married, and moved away, I was right beside the pitch."

Highfield gained senior status and their new clubhouse was opened just as their 13-acre site, which included facilities for soccer and squash, grew in the years that followed.

Club president Mark Franklin
Club president Mark Franklin

It was a social hub for the community and Franklin, who loved all sports, was enticed down to the rugby club for the first time in the late 1970s.

"I had played Gaelic games and soccer before that when I was a youngster. I was introduced to rugby through some of my friends," said Franklin.

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"I just got into it at U-18 level. I won a league medal straight away the first year. I kept with Highfield after that and I loved it."

From a 17-year-old with the physical attributes and brute force that enabled him to cope in the second and back row, rugby soon became his number one sport.

"I enjoyed it very much. I would have relished the physical challenge," said Franklin.

"I played at all levels for the club. Going through the years I played minor, Junior 2, Junior 1 up to senior level eventually. I played with them for a long time.

"I would have finished up playing in the very late 80s. I got an injury and I would have been around 30 at the time.

"Having said that, I played a couple of challenge games down through the years after that but I had to stop playing competitively when I got my injury."

Highfield RFC were increasingly holding their own at senior level but after initially longing for the game he loved, the new club president looks back and certainly doesn't fancy the bone-crunching tackles of today.

Commitment

"I did miss playing, definitely in the early years, but I don't miss playing now because the demands on the body, there is a lot more commitment required than there was then," said Franklin.

"I am long past missing playing the game. I am enjoying being involved and not having a sore body the next day.

"Down through the years I have been involved in coaching as a manager and selector with various teams in the club, not the senior or first team but some of the junior sides. I was on various committees at stages over the years. The last few years I have progressed from junior vice-president to vice-president to president.

"It is a great honour and it's something I never really expected."

Franklin took over from Dermot Godsell before the start of the summer and, just like his predecessor, he takes huge personal satisfaction from being in charge of the club.

Just as Franklin was taking over the reins, Highfield's seniors were on the back of a stunning success in Division 2A, and a history-making promotion to Division 1B.

"I am extremely proud to be president of this club," said Franklin.

"I am involved in Highfield for over 40 years and I'm extremely proud to be involved, especially with the club doing so well."

Things have changed profoundly in those 40 years, but Woodleigh Park continues to be a focal point for the community.

Highfield hosted Malone last weekend and there were plenty of familiar faces in attendance to see a brilliant 27-6 success as the home side went top of the standings after the opening round.

"Everything is a lot more professional now, even at AIL level," said Franklin.

"The players look after themselves a lot more. They are fitter and stronger than before. Even though it is amateur at AIL level, there is a much more professional approach.

"Highfield have really taken that on in the last few years. There has been a lot of success with promotions and play-offs here. That has been driven by a really professional approach in the club.

"We are in Division 1B. It is our first time in this division. We had a great year last year. We played our first game at the weekend and had a great win. It has been a very good start for us.

"When you get promoted, the main aim is to consolidate and you have aspirations to at least finish mid table.

"Highfield as a club, and me as a president, we would have ambitions to go further than that. We are hopeful but there is a long way to go.

"I am very proud of Highfield, the team and the players and the dedication of everyone involved there. I am really looking forward to this season.

"It has just started. I have a lot of hope and anticipation about it."

Franklin is also a big Munster Rugby supporter while Irish Rugby continues to take centre stage during the World Cup. He isn't too hopeful of a first Webb Ellis Cup though.

"It is going to be very, very difficult for them at this stage," said Franklin.

"They peaked a year too early. We live in hope but it is going to be very, very hard for them."

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