Clonmel Rugby project finally bringing Munster domination

Clonmel’s domination of Munster Junior rugby has been a project years in the making.

For years the seeds have been planted, on a hillside overlooking the town of Clonmel, nurtured and brought to flower by dozens of patient, talented, dedicated volunteers who have watched their charges grow and grow and get to the point where they are now delivering fruit in abundance.

The arrival of Denis Leamy as, initially, assistant coach and for the last couple of years head coach to Clonmel RFC’s first team, may have proven the catalyst to bring the club to an unprecedented haul of trophies which may yet be added to tomorrow in Thomond Park.

But it’s far from an overnight success. These things don’t happen by accident and it’s thanks to the time devoted, on Saturday mornings and at other times, at the club’s impressive facilities on Ardgeeha hill, by many coaches and assistants and parents and, of course, the players themselves, that the club now finds itself in a time of plenty.

Victory tomorrow against Shannon in the Munster Junior Cup final would yield Clonmel’s fifth title of the season to go along with the Munster Junior Clubs Cup and the Munster Junior League already won by the men; the league and cup double garnered by the women’s team; and the J2 Dave Dineen Cup won by the men’s second team.

So it’s already probably been the club’s most successful season in a history stretching back to 1892, surpassing last year when they won the Munster Junior Cup - open to teams from senior and junior clubs across the province - for the first time.

“To be in the final again this year is just phenomenal,” club PRO Paul Condon agrees. “It really would cap, without overstating it, a remarkable season for the club.

“A bit like winning the cup last year, we won the league for the first time this year and again that was fantastic.”

That league threw them into the play-offs against the other provincial Junior champions and wins against Connemara and Instonians were only countered by a loss to Dundalk who themselves went onto win a further play-off to achieve senior status. Hardly surprising, then, that Clonmel were presented with the Junior Club of the Year award on Thursday at the Munster Rugby Awards in Cork’s Maryborough Hotel, for the second season on the bounce.

But as Condon noted, the growth graph has been long and steady rather than an overnight sensation. “Our underage section is very strong and our mini section is very strong. The men’s team we have playing is 100 per cent home-grown. Of the 47 players that played in the cup campaign when we won it last year, all 47 had come through the Clonmel club structure. “

The club is lucky to have had forward-thinking committee members over the years who worked hard to ensure that the playing and training facilities today at Ardgeeha are the envy of most other clubs; along with coaches who for years have overseen the development of players from under-6 right up to adult level.

Former international star and native of nearby Dualla, Denis Leamy, has brought “a different dynamic to the players” since his arrival on the coaching staff and his appointment as head coach. “Both in terms of, obviously, the professionalism he brings but also the work ethic and the respect that the guys have for him. He’s very focused: at the start of the year he talked about goals and objectives, he talked about what he wanted to do.”

Winning the league recently was “probably the holy grail” for the Clonmel, Paul Condon says, but maybe a milestone rather than a destination. “The ultimate ambition is to continue to press and strive and put ourselves in the position to go senior… Denis has signed up for this coming season and theambition would be to get the most out of our players and continue to do what we’re doing.”

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