Sowing the seeds for community to thrive
Years of hard work are starting to pay off for west Tipperary club which is primed for great days
Having somewhere to hang your hat and call home is important to all of us, so with Newport RFC poised to take ownership of their base in the village, there is huge excitement among the community in west Tipperary.
Only nine miles separate Newport and Limerick City, and as a result there is plenty of clubs that can attract their talented youngsters away from the green and red shirt. But theirs is a vibrant club, with boys and girls rugby played up through the grades, while the adult team currently plays in the Gleeson League.
And according to club treasurer James Lee, there is a real hope that the club can grow into a strong side in the years to come, based on that solid foundation that they have constructed over the years.
"The underage structure here is good though. Between all the underage teams we probably have 230 or so players. Sunday is pretty busy around the place as you can imagine," says Lee.
"We start at leprechauns and we have U-8s, U-10s, U-11s, U-13s, we're amalgamated with Ballina Killaloe at U-14 level. We have our own U-16 team and then we have girls U-16s and U-18s. We have an adult junior team then as well.
"We are in the final stages of purchasing a new property, a ten-acre holding that we have already started developing with the consent of the owner. That's in the process of going through at the minute.
Roots "We are there since the early '70s, I'm part of a new regime that came on the scene in the last couple of years, but the people that were there before us did Trojan work to try and build the club and keep it growing. But until you actually own something, it is very hard to put down roots."
Playing against the likes of Ennis, Newcastle West and Scarriff in the Gleeson League has meant that the game has been kept alive in Newport in recent years as, like several other clubs, they have struggled to maintain player numbers. But there is significant light at the end of the tunnel, according to Lee.
"We were in Division 2 of the Munster junior league but we found it difficult to field a team with guys travelling down to the bottom of Cork and Waterford for games. Being gone all day is difficult for lads.
"Gleeson League suits us, the standard is good. We are well able to compete at that level and are competitive in every match. We took one or two beatings, but that was down to having a few lads missing.
"What we are trying to do now is build it up again with a young team. We'll probably have six or seven young fellas coming on the scene next year, they'll be over 18 by that stage, so that will be a great boost for the future.
"They have been there for the last number of years playing in a few different places, keeping an interest in rugby, but they want to come back and play for us. The hope is that they'll all be back with us soon."
And while it is brilliant to see players approaching their adult years in the green and red shirt, James says it is the youngsters' enthusiasm that keeps the club alive. The village was full of beaming smiles last September when the minis got their chance to play at Thomond Park during the half-time interval and that was a special occasion he says.
"The kids played a game at the start of the season, they played on the day that Cheetahs played in Thomond. It was a big deal for the kids. It's massive, to be in Thomond Park and to run out onto the field is absolutely huge.
"One of my own lads was playing that day so I can tell you it hits home. It gives them something to aim towards. That's what it's all about.
"When you see the work that is put in by our volunteers it is massive. Our coaches are all parents of kids that got involved at various stages. Like any club, without them and our fundraising people we would go nowhere.
"Then if you look at our girls committee is a serious operation in itself. When all that is married together we have a great support and a great club. We're a real local community."
With hurling, Gaelic football and soccer popular in the area, and a score of top rugby clubs in a ten-mile radius, Newport RFC has had to battle hard for its share of the population, but according to Lee he is just happy to see sport in general thriving in the village.
"We're so close to Limerick city, UL Bohs are only in the road from us and Nenagh Ormond is the other side of us too. Then you have Ballina-Killaloe, which is only down the road from us, it is a busy rugby spot.
influence "We've always seen the better players graduate in towards town and then come back out to us in later years again. But even here in Newport, it's mainly a GAA community with a strong soccer influence too, but for a town of our size, it is great to see all sports going."
And with that community ethos comes the belief that men and women, boys and girls all must be catered for equally in the club. James says they are very keen to carry on the progress that has been made at all levels.
"Our aim is to try and cater for everyone, men and women. There is an interest there and we want to try and maintain that, but you have to have your facilities right to do that. We have a new field that was seeded late last summer.
"It's not ready to play on immediately, but we'd love to be able to host a game on it by the end of this season. We'll have an official opening in April sometime, and in fairness to the Munster Branch and the IRFU, they have both been very good to us with a lot of support there in the background.
"Currently we have a sand-based training area, we have a temporary dressing room, a pre-fabricated school that we bought down in Cork, brought it up, kitted it out with dressing rooms, a referee's room and a canteen.
"We've quite a bit of work done in a short space of time. The aim is to fully develop that site, maybe work on another field and improve our facilities.
"We're trying to be self-sufficient and stand on our own two feet. You'll always aim to be competing well in the junior leagues if you could, but we are literally starting from scratch again trying to build things up.
"In the last seven or eight years it's been hard to maintain an adult team. It can be hard to get players to come out this far, even though we're only ten miles away from the city. The aim down the track is to get back into J1 and be competing heavily there, but we must have a solid base to make that possible."