Friday 18 October 2019

Temple Carrig's little acorns take on mighty oaks

Greystones school's Head of Sport Mark Crean tells the remarkable story of how the college that opened in 2014 is proving itself against schools rugby's big guns

Thade Shanahan of Temple Carrig is tackled by Aran Mannion and Louis Murray of Clongowes during last year’s Junior Cup Round 1 game
Thade Shanahan of Temple Carrig is tackled by Aran Mannion and Louis Murray of Clongowes during last year’s Junior Cup Round 1 game
The Temple Carrig team ahead of their first match

In the short time since Temple Carrig School first opened its doors in 2014, it has seen the establishment of a culture of excellence in its approach to the game of rugby, as well as in its execution of the training regime required to achieve the standards that its young players demand.

Early on, it was clear that there was an appetite among the student body for rugby in the Greystones, Co. Wicklow, school. Despite enrolling 132 new students and conducting classes in prefab buildings, Temple Carrig Greystones (TCG) managed to field first-year A, B and C rugby teams in its first year of existence. That first cohort of rugby players, now the school's first set of fifth-years, currently form its first Senior Cup team, who competed this season in League 1B.

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While TCG now offers a vast extra-curricular programme of sports and other activities, such was the interest in rugby in the early days of the school that greater resources had to be sourced in order to feed the enthusiasm of the students.

This was the task of myself as Head of Sport in Temple Carrig. I was adamant from the beginning that everything possible would be put in place to guarantee the most positive rugby experience the school could provide for the students.

Along with myself, former Irish international Henry Hurley - Business Studies teacher at Temple Carrig - has driven the rugby programme at TCG with the backing of an immensely talented and dedicated staff.

Currently on the rugby coaching staff are TCG teachers David O' Brien, Ted O'Brien, Eoin Bailey, John McGuinness, Adam Rice, Robin O'Sullivan, Ross O'Connor, Iain Fisher and Leinster CCRO and Greystones player Joel Penders. Ultimately, however, it is clear that without the visionary figure and wholehearted support of Alan Cox as principal, the opportunity afforded the staff and students of Temple Cariig to develop rugby to the current standard would not have been possible.

Another key player in the development of the TCG rugby community has been Greystones RFC. The local club has been hugely influential in establishing a strong rugby base at Temple Carrig. The school itself has very little green space on-site and without the immeasurable help, support and encouragement of Greystones RFC, the growth of rugby at the school would not have been possible.

Ever since the school's establishment, a close link has been developed with the local club, its members and management. At times it has gone beyond the call of duty in various avenues of support, through the provision of gear, facilities and voluntary coaches to name but a few.

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Five years ago, Temple Carrig played its first fixture against Pres Bray and has since developed a full rugby programme embracing seven boys' teams. There is also a girls' team in every year group who have competed successfully at a number of Leinster blitzes.

In 2016/17, Temple Carrig entered its first JCT side. Such was the confidence of the coaches in the boys' abilities that the team was not entered at a development level, as would be the norm, but instead was entered directly into the Leinster League 1A. This saw the newly formed squad take on the established rugby schools of Leinster.

The side finished the season by winning the Fr Godfrey Cup and qualified for the Leinster Junior Cup. In fact, they were the only non-fee-paying school to qualify for the competition that season. In this regard, the Fr Godfrey Cup win had really put TCG rugby on the map and set a high standard for all of those who would go on to follow in the team's trailblazing footsteps.

The 2017/18 JCT season proved to be even more successful and although there was no silverware at the end of the campaign, the side qualified for the knockout stages of League 1A, finishing second in their group and therefore surpassing the achievement of the Fr Godfrey Cup win. Unfortunately they were beaten in the League semi-final by Cistercian College, Roscrea, despite leading for most of the match.

After qualifying again for the Junior Cup, this time they met their match in Clongowes Wood College, losing a hard-fought game 18-12.

In this current season Temple Carrig JCT again progressed through to the quarter-final of the League but lost at this knockout stage to eventual finalists Gonzaga College 24-10. TCG will be hoping that they return to form when they face League winners Newbridge College in the first round of the Junior Cup, looking for their first ever victory in this competition.

In League 1B, the schools SCT squad have struggled initially with the step-up in physicality as, without a full Senior school from which to select a team, the side played without any sixth-years. In recent weeks, however, they have had some good wins in the McMullen Cup over CBS Enniscorthy (21-14), Ardscoil na Trionoide (57-0) and Mount Temple (25-13). They have also qualified for the Vinnie Murray Cup and beat Wilson's Hospital (32-19).

Current fifth-year student and SCT captain Patrick Kieran represented Leinster under-18 in the interpro championships in September while fellow fifth-year Alex McGuinness represented Leinster under-18 at the girls' tournament.

While Temple Carrig continue to work with limited resources compared to the bigger private schools, they play now on a weekly basis and the desire for success is as great as any. In the past four years they have made rugby tours around the country as well as two to Biarritz and have held their own when playing the various powerhouses of Irish secondary schools rugby, including St Michael's, Blackrock College, RBAI and Presentation College Cork. Coming up against these 'great oaks' of the young Irish rugby-playing community as well as being born into the huge growth spurt in Irish rugby the country is currently experiencing is giving the 'little acorns' of TCG an opportunity to dream of what might be possible in the years to come.

Crucially, it is the pupils' response to the opportunities afforded them that has galvanised the success of rugby in the school. With enormous positivity to the work and an unwavering faith that has seen them go from strength to strength, just as William Webb Ellis did in 1823, the students of Temple Carrig picked up the ball in 2014 and have run with it ever since.

Mark Crean is PE teacher and Head of Sport at Temple Carrig School, Greystones, Co. Wicklow

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