This article first appeared in the Official Matchday Programme for Leinster Rugby’s Guinness PRO14 clash with Edinburgh on November 16.

There aren’t too many good news stories knocking around at the moment.

The mental and physical positives to be taken from the game have, understandably, been overridden by the long-term health of the nation.

However, during this chaotic time, MU Barnhall has managed to make further strides in their plan to keep on growing.

In 2010, Barnhall RFC entered into an arrangement with the nearby Maynooth University that has been an unqualified success.

“It has done a couple of things. It has built the profile of the club and it has brought new blood into the club through the scholarship programme offered in partnership with the University,” said current President Gerry Niland.

This has been affirmed by the selection of Brendan McSorley for the Irish Universities and the club’s capture of the Dudley (Universities) Cup when beating Queen’s University in Belfast last November.

“It came on the back of going unbeaten and winning Division 2B of the All-Ireland League in 2018/19,” said Niland.

“The backbone of the senior team would be made up from scholarship or university players. Many of them end up working in Dublin or somewhere else in the country and we have found that they have stayed loyal to the club.

“For instance, our full-back Eoghan Quinn moved down to Limerick to further his studies. He did his own training down there, travelled up every Thursday and played on the Saturday for the last two seasons.

“We are good at holding onto players. The names don’t really change all that much.

“Obviously, we can’t pay players in the AIL. We try to help in other ways, beginning with the scholarships and helping them when their time at university is over.

The club has been keen to play on a unique selling point when it comes to attracting players in the surrounding area.

“We are actually unique because we are a university club in the community, the only one with a youth programme,” continued Niland.

“Our playing catchment area runs out from Maynooth, Straffan, Ardclogh, around to Leixlip, over to Lucan and Adamstown. We cover a huge area in the players that we attract into the club.

“We would have about 300 minis and, on a Saturday morning, the three pitches in the club are filled with minis.

“We are one of the few clubs in the country that field at every level, U-13s, U-14s, U-15s, U-16s, U-17s, U-18s. Our U-20s have been competing in the Premier Division for the last two years.

“We had 50 U-20 players training this season and we were in a play-off with St Mary’s to win the right to compete in Premier this season until it all came to a halt.

“There are five adult teams from the Seniors in the All-Ireland League to the socially ambitious fourths and fifths.

“We have a growing girls youth section, playing U-14s, U-16s and U-18s and two Ladies senior teams, the first team winning promotion to Division 1 last year.

“We also were the first club in the country to put together a mixed-ability team, set up by our own James Jones and it has become the model for mixed-ability around the country.”

That is where the community comes in. The club has a strong connection with St Raphael’s Special School in Celbridge, catering for pupils aged 5-18 years with moderate, severe and profound Intellectual Disability.

“For the first time, we had a big mixed-ability blitz in September 2019 when clubs from all over the country came to Barnhall,” added Niland.

“It was actually astonishing. I have to say, you would want to have had a heart of stone not to be moved by it. You had all these children and adults coming with their parents and families. Our seniors, our ladies and some of our youths came down to play with them. It was a testament to the work that goes on within the club.”

All the activity led to pressure on pitch space, even though there are three pitches in their home ground at Parsonstown, another at Maynooth University with plans to put down an all-weather artificial pitch also in the pipeline.

Even so, there are more than 1,000 active playing members, a footfall that places an unsustainable wear-and-tear factor on the pitches.

“The club started looking for more space four years ago. We used to play on a space owned by Hewlett-Packard. They kindly allowed us to use it as an overflow for training.

“When that was bought out, the space was no longer available. That put us under pressure.

“We looked at a number of options and Kildare County Council came up with a green space of seven-and-a-half acres at Lough Na Mona, which was sitting in a housing estate and not being utilised.

“We took their hand off. It met exactly what we were looking for because it fed into our roots as a university club in the community.

“You can’t get much more in the community than a housing estate in Leixlip. It is an area that would be better known for GAA and soccer, giving us a base to reach out to new players as well as provide extra space for existing members.”

The keys to their new kingdom were handed over on Saturday, October 3.

“It literally is located in the heart of the community and this partnership with the council provides an exciting departure for the club in a rapidly growing part of Leixlip, which is easily accessible and blessed with ample parking, adjacent to Leixlip Louisa Bridge Railway Station and local employer Intel.

“It is three kilometres, or a five-minute spin, from the club grounds. At the moment, it is an undeveloped site. There is a lot of work to be done. The posts aren’t even up yet.

“The Council has done trojan work there, cleaned up the car park, made it very presentable and we have also received a commitment to put in lights, a real priority as the winter nights close in,” stated Niland

“Over the last four years, we have spent €500,000 on the upkeep of them. We couldn’t have continued to put that amount of pressure on the pitches.”

This has relieved the pressure for space on a club that is truly thriving.