Bandon RFC picked up an All-Ireland title at U16 level last weekend. Such glory days are becoming a bit of a habit, says club president Dan Murphy.
“We won an U18 All-Ireland last year and an U19 All-Ireland six years ago, so this is our third in that time. It’s great for the club, and the fact that the latest All-Ireland is at U16 shows the work being done from U7 up is paying off in that we’re trying to show them the benefits of playing rugby.”
A result like that validates all the hard work on the ground, says Murphy.
“The U16s took the accolades last weekend, and they were well deserved, but we have 70 to 80 coaches in the field every Saturday morning looking after young fellas from U7 to U18. We have 350 kids there, so it’s tremendous tip of the hat to all of those coaches who are putting in their time on a voluntary basis, to spread our rugby-playing ethos among the kids.
“The philosophy in Bandon is very much to play as you train, and to try to play with the ball in hand.
"There’s a lot of talk about contact in the game, but kids love to pass the ball and play with the ball, they don’t necessarily have to go into contact.
“And that’s how the U16s played last Sunday, they played an expansive game. Fair play to their coaches, Paul Barrett, Trevor Collins, John Desmond and Richie Williams. Bandon played a game they could be proud of, they moved the ball around well, and they won the game with tries out wide.” Challenges remain after victory, however. Retaining players is an issue for Bandon, as it is for every club in every sport.
“There are two sides to it,” says Murphy. “There’s the part where they go to college, and hopefully, because of the facilities we have in Cork in UCC and CIT, they’ll go as far as there. Some go to Limerick or Dublin, but predominantly they’d probably go to Cork city, and we’re only 20 minutes away, so you’d hope to retain them. That a sense loyalty and community would keep them involved, because our adult sides are going well too at present.”
Would a senior team be the ultimate attraction in retaining those youngsters?
“We were unlucky not to make it to senior last year, and it’s the ideal, what we’d love to see. But it’s like all adult games - soccer, football, hurling - we all have the same problem in that we all lose players as they transition to the adult grades. You have to give them enjoyment and consider the lifestyle they have, that’s the other challenge. With our U19 team which won the All-Ireland six years ago, for instance, they’ve all come out the other side of college now.
“For a few years you’re competing with college, then they have jobs, and everything is up the east coast now in terms of jobs, or they’re gone further, to England or the States. Of that U19 team we got four or five years out of them and we still have five of them playing for us which is a freakish number. We’d hope to transition our U18s and U16s through to the adult teams eventually, and we’ll see where that takes us.” Murphy credits Munster’s professional success for lifting the game’s profile in areas not traditionally associated with rugby, but that profile needs augmenting with work on the ground.
“Every Munster fan is proud of what Munster did over the years, we had some great days out and journeys following them. That put the rugby ball in a lot of GAA players’ hands, and soccer players’ hands, so it was great for the game. One of the big things in Munster, always, was the importance of the senior cup and the junior cup, they were the heartbeat of rugby, and sometimes - sometimes - we might have lost sight of that.
“It’s very important to rugby, and what’s being done in Clonakilty and Skibbereen and Bantry, that’s fabulous, but it’s all being done in the club game. "And we can’t lose sight of the club game in the journey. In fairness to the lads in administration in Munster, they’re doing their best, and you’d have to say that in rugby we have had incredible administrators over the years. There’s phenomenal credit due to them, too.”
And to the men on the ground. Bandon RFC are running a fundraiser next weekend, by the way.
“Bandon RFC On Broadway, and it’s on in the Bandon GAA club pavilion,” says Murphy. “A great night, you won’t often see rugby players onstage.” (Details available here)