Tramore RFC: 'There needs to be a love of rugby, and we had that'
Enthusiasm and smart call to focus only on minis has Waterford new boys thriving in hurling heartlands, writes Declan Rooney
Tramore RFC will soon be four years old, and like any infant the first few steps have been tentative, but hugely rewarding ones.
Some of the local children that showed up on day one are still there playing mini rugby on Sunday mornings, and with teams ready for action all the way up to U-10s now, the competitive spirit has begun to take hold, as players with a few basics of the game have grown into skilful youngsters.
While he wasn't there for day one of the club's foundation, honorary secretary Stephen Butler has been a real driving force behind its continuous development and growth, and he is thrilled to see the game flourish in the Co Waterford town.
"Like all clubs, players come and go, but we have a cohort now at that age that have been with us since they were small kids. They are really getting a grasp of the game now, they're growing into it, are enjoying it and are hungry for games," says Butler.
"This year we have had a lot more games than ever, and players having the confidence games bring is great. At the age of five or six they get distracted by a cloud or a plane in the sky, so seeing them grasping the fundamentals of the game is a real thrill.
"It has been a journey: coaches, committee members and players come and go. But we have a great turnout every Sunday and that's the big thing."
Like any fledgling club, there would be no chance of survival without the good will of local families and businesses.
Butler is full of praise for local businesses who put their hands in their pockets to get them off the ground and continue to sponsor the youngsters' endeavours.
"We have a great support from our sponsors," he says. "Chia Bia is a local food company and they help us. Audi Waterford have been great to us as well, and Dooly's local fish and chip shop have been really great too; their name is on our jersey.
"The local community has been such a help.
"One of our biggest challenges is that we don't own our own ground, but Ardscoil na Mara - in conjunction with BAM - have let us use their GAA pitch as our ground, which was been a god-send.
"Originally we were based in the primary school and it wasn't suitable. After that we were based in the racecourse for a while.
"This is our second season at the school and because of that we can host blitzes. We've had teams like Waterford City come out to us for games, which is great for the club, and helps us grow."
At the time of their inception the founding members decided to start small and try to build a club from the ground up.
As a result all of their focus was put into mini rugby, and once players reach the age of 13 and arrangement has been made that they can join either Waterford City or Waterpark RFC.
Butler thinks it was a smart call, not to bite off more than they could chew on day one.
"We made a conscious decision to stay a mini club for the foreseeable future. Rather than trying to force it early on and put the pressure on us financially and from an administration point of view," he says.
"Our aim was to grow the sport in Tramore and the surrounding area and then see what happens.
"We take them in for Leprechaun stage and keep them until they graduate from U-12s. We put them in touch with both of the city clubs then, wherever they want to join.
"We're delighted with that, the main thing is that they continue their involvement in rugby.
"This year we have between 50 and 60 registered kids, and 22 of them travelled to Carrick-on-Suir on Sunday for a match between the clubs' U-10s and U-9s. We had a great morning. It was pleasing to have two teams and subs as well, so we feel we are getting places now.
"Getting a compliment from teams is nice too. They always tell you what you're doing right or where you can improve. Carrick are an established club nearly 100 years old, so to get encouragement from them is great."
Four years in, the proof is there that Tramore needed a rugby club, and Butler urges any town with an interest in launching into the game to go for it.
Seeing the locals growing their love for the game is the biggest reward according to Butler, but the one bit of advice he has is to ask for guidance, because there is lots of it out there for fledgling clubs.
"I know when I first joined, you could see straightaway that there needed to be a love of the sport for the new club to succeed, which we had," he says.
"Although you all have a common goal that everyone is interested in rugby, people don't always agree on every decision. There will be hard conversations and tough decisions made, but it's all worth it in the end.
"The Munster Branch is a fantastic resource, as is the IRFU. Once you are approved as an affiliate club of the branch, there is a huge amount of information and training courses that you can go on.
"I went to one in UL and it was a fantastic weekend. For grassroots rugby, I was blown away by the level of detail and work that goes into it. Ultimately they want to grown the sport in the province, and that comes with educating coaches, who pass on their skills to players.
"My advice to anyone wanting to start a club is to make contact with their local branch representative. They will give you the best advice, show you where the grants are and help you get set up and get the club off the ground.
"The reality of it is that Waterford is a real hurling-dominant county, but there is still a real love of the game here.
"So having someone like Jack O'Donoghue coming from Waterpark and getting a cap for Ireland has been a fantastic boost for the sport.
"It's been a journey, but an exciting one and I'd encourage anyone that's interested to give it a go."