'The last 10 years have been the glory years'
West Limerick club's policy of focusing on the development of young players has paid off in a big way, writes Ciarán McGreal
Newcastle West RFC was founded in 1924 after a meeting in Raymond K. Sheehy's newspaper shop in Bridge Street and despite a couple of breaks along the way, the club isn't too far off its centenary.
Tim Mulcahy has been involved with the club in various capacities over the years and he speaks fondly about the club's recent successes off the back of a revival in the 1960s.
"It went into abeyance for about ten years at one stage but it was resurrected again in the 1960s and it's been going since then," says Mulcahy.
"It's been flying it since then. There have been ups and downs like all clubs but the last ten years have been the glory years. We haven't much silverware to show for it but the highlight for the club in the last few years was the U-18s winning the Pan Munster two years ago.
"That was a huge achievement for the club. From that team, three players are on the starting team of our junior team and they're only 19 years of age: Sean Murphy, Sean Ivess and Ger Griffin have all come through the underage structure."
The club's first team currently play in the Munster Junior League Division 1 and lie second in the table. Clonmel lead the way with 44 points from ten games while Newcastle West are seven points behind. With three league games left, there is every chance that the Limerick club will catch Clonmel.
Former Munster great and father to current Ireland star Keith, Ger Earls, is head coach of the senior side and Tom Kelleher is the current captain. Kelleher took over the captaincy when Dave Foley got injured.
Involved "This season our captain Dave Foley got injured," explains Mulcahy. "Dave came back to the club three years ago having played senior rugby with Thomond and Young Munster. He was involved with the Munster Junior team last year that won the inter-provincial series.
"He broke his ankle in October and he hasn't played since then but the captaincy has been taken over by Tom Kelleher. His father is a former captain of the club. Tom is captain now and he's been involved with the club all his life."
The club's underage section starts at U-6s and goes up as far as U-18s with approximately 225 players registered across 11 age-groups. While the club is located in the town of Newcastle West, many of its members come from neighbouring areas. Mulcahy feels the club's large catchment area is vital for its survival.
"Although the club is based in Newcastle West, we draw players from West Limerick. If we were to depend only on the town of Newcastle West we wouldn't have a team," he explains. "There are parishes around the area where we would be drawing players from. We draw from parishes all around the area, places like Ardagh, Castlemahon and Knockaderry."
Estuary RFC in Shanagolden are the club's closest allies. The two clubs have amalgamated at underage level which has been of benefit to both clubs.
"At all underage teams from U-13 up to U-18s we have an amalgamation with Estuary," explains Munster Rugby youth secretary Pat Daly who, along with Estuary president Joe Hoyne, got the ball rolling with the amalgamation.
"Myself and Joe Hoyne started meeting with each other and amalgamated at U-18s first four years ago. That team, after two years, went onto win the Pan Munster outright and then we started to join up in different age-groups where numbers were low and in the last year we're competing at U-13s, U-14s, U-15s, U-16s and U-18s at amalgamated level."
Estuary RFC is a young club having formed back in 2005 but Daly was quick to note the contribution of the amalgamation to recent successes.
"It has brought fruition in the club because we've won a Pan Munster U-18s, we won last year's U-16 league and cup and we're in the Pan Munster quarter-finals going forward after this month.
"Also in the U-16s we're likely to qualify for the quarter-final there. In the past we wouldn't necessarily have had the numbers but the amalgamation has brought success for us."
The club is blessed to have a number of pitches to train and play on, but Mulcahy says the club is constantly looking to improve and develop its facilities.
"We have three pitches. Our main pitch is in Cullina and that's been there since the 1970s. In the 1980s we bought Killeline but didn't develop it until the late 1990s or early 2000s and we have two pitches there with a clubhouse, a gym and full training facilities.
"One day we would like an all-weather training area. That's a long-term goal. We'd also like to have floodlights for one of the pitches so that we could play evening matches. But those things don't come cheap."
With so many senior clubs in Limerick city, down through the years a number of Newcastle West's most talented players have moved on to pastures new, but Mulcahy says the club will never stand in the way of players who want to move to higher levels.
"Newcastle West feels that if players are good enough to go on and play at another level, be it senior AIL rugby or any other level, we'd be absolutely delighted with that. We don't hold guys back. We're quite happy to see them move on and play at a higher level if they can and if they're good enough."
Munster have enjoyed an incredible season in Europe and next up for the province in the Champions Cup is the highly-anticipated quarter-final clash with Toulouse on April 1. The excitement is building all over the province and Mulcahy says the support of Munster in Newcastle West is very strong.
"Obviously the support of Munster Rugby is huge coming from this area. Tickets for the quarter-final will be out a premium out here. People regularly go to the matches from children up to adults. It's huge the amount of them that go. We'd organise a couple of trips to bring the kids to Thomond Park. Everybody needs to see their heroes and what they can strive to get to."