Saturday 18 August 2018

With pride in the shirt youth game still thrives

Carrigaline and Douglas had to join forces at underage level but they are still proud of their colours

Carrigaline's U-12 team with coaches Eugene and Garry
Carrigaline's U-12 team with coaches Eugene and Garry

Daragh Small

Situated just under half-an-hour's drive south of Cork city is the small town of Carrigaline, where rugby is thriving and people like Alan O'Brien are looking to make it available to everyone in the community.

The Baa-Baas are the result of an amalgamation with Douglas RFC in the teenage ranks and beyond, but before that Carrigaline RFC is where all of the potential Munster superstars learn their trade.

Young Carrigaline club members who now play with a combined U-14 Baa-Baas squad
Young Carrigaline club members who now play with a combined U-14 Baa-Baas squad

"We would all love to be fielding our own teams against each other. But when you can't you have to make do. We did that with Douglas and we are delighted with how it has worked out," said O'Brien.

"It's just crucial you don't lose a player to sport. Because if you do lose a child to sport, even if it's for a year break they will occupy their time somewhere else. Just by not having a team available you can lose them."

O'Brien is originally from Tralee and spent his youth playing racquetball in the Tralee Raquetball Club, one of only a handful of those clubs in Ireland.

But after moving to Cork in 1992 and then on to Carrigaline to work in pharmaceuticals in 2004, he was determined to slot into the community and play his part in one of the local clubs.

The U-11 side who played at half-time during a Munster PRO12 game at Irish Independent Park last season
The U-11 side who played at half-time during a Munster PRO12 game at Irish Independent Park last season

His son Cathal was born two years later and in 2010 both of them headed for Ballyorban, the home ground of Carrigaline, where the O'Briens took the rugby club to their hearts.

"When you are a blow-in, I always said the first club that Cathal joined I would give them my time, I just didn't think that it would be rugby," said O'Brien.

Nabbed

"When I brought him the first day, one of my work colleagues was one of the coaches and he nabbed me. All of these years later I am now the chairman.

"I came in with no experience. I still have little experience, but it's a great way to get to know people when you are not from a town."

Carrigaline RFC is all about the community effort to help get the minis on the pitch and playing the game they love.

O'Brien is not only the chairman, he also co-ordinates the minis, and he is back coaching the U-7 and U-8s having come through the ranks with a batch of U-13s recently.

"From U-13 onwards we have a team together with Douglas in the Baa-Baas. I don't beat the rugby drum but what I have noticed is some of the players go off and play with the schools and they can become less available to the clubs at times when they are 14 to 18," said O'Brien.

"As a result some clubs are struggling to field a team, it got to a stage where we had an U-18 team combined with Douglas, and another team that is local to us had five players who wanted to play U-18.

"So they loaned them to us. It is good because it shows all the clubs want to do is make the rugby available to the players."

Carrigaline and Douglas are rivals at minis level and the players compete against each other, whether that be at club or school level, before they join together under the BaaBaas banner.

"They would wear their own shorts and socks too but they have Baa-Baas jersey. The jersey is red, it's an Adidas one like the Lions one. The U-14 team are wearing them now," said O'Brien.

"They may go out with the Baa-Baas amalgamated jersey, but they still have their own identities. The sock thing is a nice thing because you can see where they came from."

That is an essential part of the keeping their own identity. Carrigaline and Douglas are looking to survive in tough circumstances but they never want to lose any of their rich history.

"We have chosen to field teams at youth grade rugby. In minis up to U-12, you field ten or 12 children a game. But when it comes to 15-a-side you need a panel of 25," said O'Brien.

"Based on our geographical location and history, the guy who got Douglas back going again, we decided we would get in contact with each other. We started with an U-16 that went to U-18 together.

"Over the years we have got them to put out sides together. Ultimately, we just want an outlet for kids to play rugby. We came up with the Baa-Baas model. At the start we played in our jersey or theirs. But then we sourced a jersey which had an amalgamated logo."

Although there are struggles along the way, having the two sets of players competing with each other for a starting spot in the team fosters a more competitive unit. But despite that the door is always open in Carrigaline for players of any age to join up and no experience is necessary.

Off the field having more volunteers and coaches allows the players to have exposure to higher standards and O'Brien knows that will help down the line too.

"When they play with Carrigaline they are playing with their existing friends but they make new friends as well. This year with the U-13s, I had this group from U-7s all the way up and this was this group of 12 guys who all knew each other very well," said O'Brien.

"Some of them went to school in Carrigaline and the Shanbally regions. The Douglas kids knew each other really well too and they went to school in and around the Douglas area.

"In the first training session last August you are bringing 25 kids together.

"These guys have to learn each other's names, what position do they play in.

"When there are 25 or 26 chasing 15 places it forces them to challenge themselves to get game-time.

"The training is more effective and the kids get better training with coaches from Carrigaline and Douglas. A lot of clubs struggle with volunteer fatigue, where you are trying to find coaches.

"You might have someone who is good from a management point of view and that will give the kids that bit more of an experience.

"It's nice to other individuals coaching who are not parents and don't know the kids and then there wouldn't be any prejudices there. They can go, this is the rugby player I see before me and I am going to develop their strengths and look at what they can work on."

Irish Independent

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