Tom McCoy, chairman of Munster Youths Rugby and his fellow committee members understand the battle outlying clubs face in keeping rugby alive in their areas due to a lack of playing numbers.
Accordingly, some are allowed to amalgamate for certain underage competitions while retaining their identities otherwise. Newcastle West/ Estuary fitted ideally into this category and the far-sighted strategy was justified by a superb final, which the West Limerick boys won 22-20.
The huge crowd at Thomond Park created a terrific atmosphere with the support for both Newcastle West/ Estuary and Bruff passionate, vocal and knowledgeable. The quality probably came as a surprise to those who know little of youths rugby and there was general recognition that both sides had the capacity to take on and handle the leading schools teams in the same age bracket.
Pat Daly, youth officer at Newcastle West and also honorary secretary of the North Munster sub-committee, explains: “About three years ago, Joe Hoyne from Estuary (based in Shanagolden), Billy O’Rourke of Abbeyfeale and myself came together and reckoned that amalgamating our respective teams at under 15, 16 and 18 levels was the way forward.
“Shortage of numbers left us with little other option. It’s difficult when you’re competing with Gaelic games, soccer and, of course, the demands of school examinations and there’s always the challenge of keeping lads interested.
“A number of managers came on board, great rugby people like John Liston, Conor Magner, James Feane, Tom Ivess, Eoin Cahill, Tom Fox and Joe Hoyne but even then the desired results were slow in coming.
“We kept getting into finals and coming up short, often by very narrow margins, just like we enjoyed on Sunday against Bruff. And I’m serious when I say that Bruff have had a lot to do with the success we’ve enjoyed.
“They have always been great opponents and Sunday’s game proved that point.”
There is no doubt that the two teams contained a number of promising individuals.
Full-back Sean Ivess and number 8 Thomas Darcy, who did the bulk of the scoring for Newcastle, were members of this year’s Munster Youths team, as was centre Sean Murphy, while out-half Colm McSweeney is one of those earmarked for similar honours next season.
It now remains to be seen if these genuinely talented players from many rural parts of the country who don’t attend rugby-playing schools can go on and make their mark in senior rugby. They certainly couldn’t have had a better benchmark than people like Munster and Ireland legends Moss Keane and Mick Galwey from Currow, Co Kerry, Alan Quinlan from Tipperary and Sean O’Brien, the “Tullow Tank” from Carlow, who learned the tricks of the trade with their local clubs.
Pat Daly and his colleagues are happy with the progress made by Newcastle West RFC, who after a few years in the relative wilderness have become a force once again and actually led Division One of the Munster Junior League until an advanced stage of the season before giving best to Clonmel.
With an obvious array of young talent set to come on stream over the next couple of years, the future would appear to be extremely bright.