Kilfeacle: The All-Ireland junior rugby champions with grand ambitions

There was fun to be knocked out of that All-Ireland win. Especially as they’d been there before, only two years ago.

Kilfeacle: The All-Ireland junior rugby champions with grand ambitions

Winning an All-Ireland title is a natural full-stop, an organic finish to a season.

Not in Kilfeacle, though. They saw off Dromore, of Lisburn, a couple of weekends ago, 28-24, in the Energia All-Ireland Junior Cup rugby final, but they still have a league to play for.

Are the celebrations likely to, ah, come against them in the next couple of league outings?

“No, they’re very committed, very focused,” says honorary secretary, Michelle Noonan. “Willie Staunton is our player-coach, ex-AIL, and he’s very organised: he knows all about big occasions.

“He’s very good with the boys. They took one night off — they usually train Tuesdays and Thursdays — but they took the Tuesday after the All-Ireland off and got back on the Thursday.

“We played St Senan’s the weekend before last in the Munster Junior Cup, so we’re already back to business, though the league is the focus, at the moment.

“We have four matches to go and the boys want trophies. There was no problem getting them back to training: they have the winning mentality and they’ve caught the bug, so they want to keep going as long as they can.”

Still, there was fun to be knocked out of that All-Ireland win. Especially as they’d been there before, only two years ago.

“It was great to win. Two years ago, we lost at the same stage to Ashbourne, up in Portlaoise, on a horrible day, but the lads knew, having gotten to a final, that they wanted to win one. It was always at the back of their minds to go for it again,” Noonan says.

“It’s a two-year process: you qualify based on your performance the previous season. If you finish in the top four in your league, you get into the series, so it just goes to show that they put in a lot of work last year to get into the top four.

In the games themselves, this year, we were very lucky to have home advantage all the way to the semi-final; pure luck, but it was great to have those games at home. Bringing the big guns down to our own pitch, particularly Ashbourne in the semi-final, was great.

That continuity helped, Noonan says. In a competition as keenly contested as the All-Ireland Junior Cup, having past experience helped Kilfeacle in their preparations this season: “We did have a few lads come up from the U18 team in the last couple of years, but the majority of the players would have played in the final two years go.

“So they knew what it was like to get to a final, what the occasion entailed; it probably made them even keener to win it, particularly as it’s probably the only cup we haven’t won.

“It’s a very good competition: you have the top 16 junior rugby teams in Ireland in it, so you’re measuring yourself against the very best,” Noonan says.

“There was a great buzz in the club, leading up to the game, but the players were probably more relaxed on this occasion: they knew what to expect, they knew what was coming, so there wasn’t a sense of the unknown. In that sense, they were probably more relaxed, because they knew about travelling for a big game, getting themselves right for that, and what happens on the day.

“The saying we’d have is, ’you have to lose a final to win a final’, so I’d say they were better-prepared, going up this time round. There was great excitement in the club, and around the town, but in terms of the players, we kept it low-key,” Noonan says.

That reference to the excitement in the locality is no accident. Noonan says that many of the businesses in town “went out and spent money on getting their windows done up, and decorated their premises, to show support” for the team. That support wasn’t confined to the town. The full name of the club is Kilfeacle & District, and it’s a description that fits the make-up of the club’s top team.

Kilfeacle & District are the Energia All-Ireland Junior Cup rugby champions. But their season’s not over: They still have the league. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Kilfeacle & District are the Energia All-Ireland Junior Cup rugby champions. But their season’s not over: They still have the league. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

“We got messages from lots of clubs in the run-up to the final: Tipperary Town has a big sporting community — soccer is very strong there, too — and all those clubs, the other rugby clubs, the GAA clubs, they all sent messages of support. And on the day of the game, the supporters in the ground were from every sporting group in the area,” Ms Noonan says.

“For instance, we draw players from about ten different GAA clubs, so when we have ‘district’ in our name, we mean it. You’re talking about Cappamore, Bansha, Knockavilla, all over; so we had great support. The fact that the junior rugby and junior soccer trophies are both in Tipperary, at the moment, is unbelievable.”

It’s a narrative many rural clubs will identify with: the boost of winning a big trophy energises the membership and marks the club out as somewhere top-class competition is available.

“Absolutely, the team have done a few of the schools with the trophy — there’s a few more to be done yet — and the kids are amazing: they love seeing the trophy and they love waving the flags.

And we have to build on that, to utilise it when it comes to schools and members. Our facilities are second-to-none: we’ve just purchased a third playing pitch, we have a great clubhouse, great coaches. So we need to do the work, to tell people the quality of rugby is there.

“We’re four games out from the end of the league and we’re three points ahead, so we want to build on our success and win the league.

“Then, if people see you’re competitive, they’ll stay with us. We have senior clubs near us — Cashel is only a few miles away, Clonmel is in another direction — but playing rugby at the top junior level and being competitive, which we are, is something we hope people will recognise.

“And that they’ll come along and join us.”

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