Club in Focus: Cill Dara
June 7, 2023 5:00 pm Des Berry
Cill Dara has hosted the Provincial Towns Cup final on three occasions in 2007, 2015 and 2022.
It has never won it. It has never even made the final. It has reached the semi-final on four occasions, including this year where they lost to Kilkenny.
It’s another sign of the rude health of a club founded in 1976.
There is no one better placed than Conor Byrne to review the journey taken by Cill Dara to its’ current home near Kildare Town on the edge of The Curragh.
“I have been on the executive of Cill Dara since 2001 and I am 13 years into a two-year term as President of the club,” laughs Conor.
“The real changing point in Cill Dara came in 2003 when we moved to Beech Park which is now Silken Thomas Park.
“We moved from a facility in town where we had two pitches, which were really only 1 ¾ in size, to a venue where we have four pitches, two of them which are fully floodlit.
“That enabled the club to grow and expand, the numbers of minis and youths increasing as the popularity of rugby grew.
“We have somewhere in the region of 500 players spread throughout 25 teams. It is vibrant. No doubt about it.”
In recent years, the CCRO Paddy Behan has been able to gain access to Kildare Community School to coach rugby, paying off this year when they reached the Pat Rossiter Development Cup semi-final.
“It is all about the community. It is all about what the club can offer the community through the broad spectrum of what we do.
This is probably best illustrated in the development of their Disability Team, the Foxes, the brainchild of member Paul McGrath.
“He visited clubs, gathered information around what was required and committed to run it,” stresses Conor.
“Paul is a Special Needs Assistant in Patrician College, Newbridge and, every year, he gets transition year students to come out and help with coaching. He has also been able to attract TY students from Kildare Community School.”
The ability to be versatile and move with the times has served the club well too. In the age of the screen, PRO Bernadette Prendergast has pushed the social media identity of Cill Dara.
“When we started up the minis and youths, it was postbox drops and calling around to schools with leaflets. Now, it is Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Even websites are probably becoming outdated at this point.
“It is all about being active on social media and we are very lucky to have Bernie as our PRO. She is fantastic.
The strategy around selling rugby to the area has not left behind the traditional print media partners either.
“To be fair, we have a great relationship also with the local newspapers, The Kildare Nationalist and The Leinster Leader. They have been brilliant at covering rugby in the area.
“Through a number of outlets, we get our messages out there to promote the club at every given opportunity.”
The club has stayed true to its commitment to community, nurturing the boys and girls of the area to feed them the skills so that they can enjoy the thrills of the game.
“Our Towns Cup team is almost exclusively local players. I estimated eleven of our starting senior 15 played minis and youths for the club.
“That is what has really come to fruition in recent years, the work that has been done with the minis and the youths.
“We have also been lucky enough to have the volunteers to accommodate the growth in numbers playing the game.
“We are seeing all of this work come through in our senior side. With one exception, everyone in the Cill Dara backline is 23 and under and we had two 19-year-olds in there too.
Conor is quick to acknowledge that this all stands on a grassroots operation. Getting players in the door is the first step to keeping them interested enough to feel it is a home away from home.
“We are really seeing the benefits of our work which is phenomenal,” he says.
“It is not really about winning trophies. But, getting to finals and semi-finals, as we have in the Towns Cup this year, is a real shot in the arm to promoting Cill Dara.”
The explosion of women’s rugby has brought new energy and many new members.
But, it has taken time to convince children Cill Dara is the place for them given the obvious multiple sports attractions in the area.
“Originally, we started with a senior ladies’ team in Cill Dara. It was very successful. At that stage, there was no defined pathway for girls. Some of them played mini rugby. Unfortunately, there was no outlet after that, in terms of youth teams. So it stopped.
“Aine Donnelly got fully capped for Ireland as a Cill Dara player. I don’t suppose that will ever happen for us at any other level given the structure of the game now.
“Her name was listed in the match programme beside her club, Cill Dara. That was something we were very proud of. That helped to promote girls’ rugby.
“We have developed a large player base aided by the phenomenal boom in girls’ and women’s rugby.”
The relationship with Portarlington has led to PortDara being one of the best youth programmes in Leinster.
“We have joined with Portarlington to set up PortDara at U12s, U14s, U16s and U18s all playing up into the Falcons, the senior women’s team between the amalgamated clubs
“We have regular representation on the Leinster U18 Girls squad. Hannah Wilson played for Leinster U18s and Ireland U18s last year. Katelynn Doran and Muireann Scully would have played for Ireland.
“It has been great that the two clubs have worked so well together because it doesn’t always work. The clubs alternate training and for home games.
“The simple truth is that we need each other.”