Boyne RFC Club Community Rugby Officer (CCRO), James Fey is a relative veteran of the CCRO programme, having been involved for the past five years…

In this time, he has seen dramatic changes in the rugby landscape. ‘In five years, I’ve seen rugby become a sport that’s on everyone’s lips. Children now associate with Leinster a lot more than five years ago. Back then it was very much a case of being soccer-orientated in the area.’

The increased awareness of all things rugby in the Boyne area has led to some spectacular gains at Boyne RFC. Boyne now field two sides from under-13 to under-17 and James believes the increase in youths and minis numbers are directly attributable to the work being undertaken in the local schools through the CCRO program. ‘I’ve definitely noticed a direct link between increased numbers playing in the club from the work in the schools.’ This increased participation is thanks in large part to the contact time James spends with local schoolchildren.

The former Boyne RFC player interacts with 12 primary schools and three secondary schools throughout the course of the year and has seen significant progress in the past couple of years. James only sees the trend continuing. ‘Rugby is absolutely still growing as a sport. Now I’m getting phone calls trying to get me into schools! Word of mouth helps a lot. One school hears about another doing it and they want you to come into them.’

James’ success in spreading the game throughout the area is a result not only of his hard work but also of a general changing of attitudes towards the game. ‘We’re slowly losing the stigma of rugby being a rough sport. The Leinster brand, through the Heineken Cup has really raised the profile. Even this year, the kids were far more aware of the cup than last year. A lot of that comes from the Leinster branch pushing the sport through the schools.’ The difference in attitudes is perfectly highlighted by the fact some local schoolchildren are now choosing their secondary school based on the level rugby expertise being offered, something according to James that ‘would have been unheard of in the area before.’

Progress is certainly being made and the Boyne RFC CCRO takes particular pride in establishing a love of rugby amongst kids who had no previous experience of the sport. ‘Last year we started up full contact rugby for fifth and sixth class across the primary schools. We picked four schools who had the facilities to do it. We went in and coached them the basics of tackling rucking and mauling and then had a blitz which was extremely successful. Seeing these guys within the schools and then up at the club is fantastic. The most rewarding thing is seeing a guy who had no clue how to play rugby two years ago playing well up in the club.’

Despite enjoying considerable success, James is keen to not rest on any laurels and although there is much work still to be done, there is a sense that the club and youth representative structures in place will reap rich rewards in the future. ‘The structure is in place to make sure less players slip through the net who might have the potential to go all the way. I think the right systems are in place. Guys go into the northeast structure far earlier now than they used. The players in smaller towns and clubs are getting a better chance to make that step up. The net has been cast far wider.’

Through these improvements in structures, James believes that the days of a handful of elite schools providing the vast majority of professional players may be coming to an end. ‘I think there will be a lot more kids coming through the youth system in future years. Hopefully going forward we get a couple of schools outside the Dublin area into the top level of the Senior Cup.’

While understandably optimistic regarding the future, bridging the gap to top level rugby schools will be no easy process as James readily admits. ‘One of the biggest hurdles to achieving this is the lack of contact time. It’s been a big problem trying to get more time with the lads.

‘The schools would probably only train once a week. It’s tough to get teachers in the schools to take it up. In terms of the success of Leinster, this helps in the likelihood of having a teacher in the school who is willing to take it on.’

Although there are clearly still many obstacles ahead, the success enjoyed by the club in the past few years cannot be deemed merely a flash in the pan and through the hard work of James and others, the game looks set for a bright future in the Boyne area. ?