Director of Rugby Norman Byrne is 30 years into a love affair with DLSP.

“The club is ingrained in me. I joined as a player in 1993. I even played in the first match DLSP played in the All-Ireland League back in 1995,” he says.

“I captained the club in 1996/97. I have been involved as a player, a coach and a member ever since, becoming the Director of Rugby on a full-time basis in November 2018.

“I feel very fortunate to be part of such a wonderful rugby club, which is like an extended family.”

The various roles Norman immersed himself into over the years provided a great vantage point to observe and to understand the complexities of the club.

“Because I know the club as well as I do, I was in a position to work with great people in all levels of the club to evolve the revised strategy which we have been implementing in recent years.

“It is very much a community-based club, evolving even more in that direction as the residential population of the city has grown out towards Stepaside and Enniskerry.

“We are one of a few rugby clubs that have facilities in the area. We just had to get our strategy right.”

“We were in the first division of the AIL back in the early 2000s, possibly punching slightly above our weight back then.

“But, we competed relatively successfully in the AIL for a number of years, before then dropping out of the AIL and struggling for a period in the Leinster League – even dropping two divisions in consecutive seasons in 2019 and 2020. They were very challenging years.”

Those in the club came to realise that foundation blocks needed to be put in place so that it could thrive again.

Norman Byrne. Photo by: John Crothers

“The strategy we have now is the strategy that really suits the club,” says Norman.

“It starts with being the best community-based rugby club in the area. We provide rugby for all, attracting every man, woman and child into the club to play rugby.

“We have a team for everyone. We currently have 475 players registered in the Mini and Youth section, from our U5 ‘Daisy Pickers’ up to and including U18s.

“We have 23 teams, from all the Mini and Youth teams for both boys and girls, to our Special Needs ‘Eagles’ and Mixed Ability ‘Vikings’, Touchies, Taggers, American Footballers and our four adult male and female teams.

“We field youth teams from U13 to U18 either by ourselves or on an amalgamated basis with other clubs, which has served us well too.

“The community and inclusivity aspects are critical to our strategy,” says Norman.

“We have two main feeder schools in De La Salle Churchtown and St Benildus College. We have very good partnership arrangements with them. We have a wide network of primary and national schools we work with in the area as well.

“If you put that all together, the club’s strategy has been to develop a sustainable pathway for players to start and finish their rugby at DLSP.

“To facilitate this, we have implemented a four-step integrated pathway: mini rugby, youths rugby, U20 rugby and adult rugby.

“We place a strong emphasis on supporting our players in the transition from one stage of this pathway to the next, with the hope and intention of retaining the players through their rugby careers and beyond if they want to be a coach, manager or pavilion member.

“There is also a space to attract players back to Salmo, if they have left along the way,” he adds.

“By the nature of the two schools we are in partnership with, most of our players are not compromised by the Schools Cup competitions. That is very beneficial to us.

“We understand that we will lose players to the traditional rugby schools, like St Mary’s College or Blackrock College.

Photo by: John Crothers.

“But the integrated pathway is there to make them feel that they have had so much support on their rugby journey that DLSP is ‘their club’ and the one that they want to return to.

“When the players complete their schooling and their time in college, they might come back and play with us again. That has worked surprisingly well.”

It has led to an upswing in fortunes on the playing field where DLSP won promotion from Division 2A of the Leinster League this season.

“We are in the right place now and on the right trajectory having come out of Covid with a couple of successful seasons in Leinster League Division 2A.

“Last year, we finished second in 2A, losing a play-off to Mullingar. This year, we won the Division after 11 rounds of the 14, having won all 11 games with nine try-scoring bonus-points, playing an expansive style of rugby which is not overly common at that level.

“This successful expansive style very much derives from the player and coach development approach we take through the integrated pathway where we try to instil physical literacy, rugby handling and technical skills in our players so that they are proficient when it is most required at the adult levels.

“The success this season is a manifestation of how the strategy can work.

“We have an extended senior squad of about 50 players. Twenty-six of them were in DLSP’s U20 squad that won the JP Fanagan Division Three League in 2020, playing 14 and winning 14.

“Of that 26, 25 had played youth rugby at DLSP. Of that 25, 20 had played mini rugby at DLSP. Of that 20, 12 of them have been at DLSP since U6.

“Effectively, one-quarter of the senior squad has played their rugby since U6. Co-incidentally, I coached that group, primarily because my son Luke was one of the 12.

“Other coaches who worked with me with that group include Barry Murphy, our current Club President; John Feeney, now one of our senior squad managers, and Emmet Nealon, who is currently coaching our Girls Under 18s.

“This is the integrated pathway in action – for both players and coaches/members, how it can work and how it has worked for us,” says Norman.

The number of adults playing rugby is dwindling all across the country, leaving DLSP in an enviable position at present.

“We have a great underage set-up which we hope is going to provide us with sustainable player resources into the future and we have to do everything we can to maximise that excellent resource.

“If we can retain as many as we can of that cohort, we will be in a really good place when it comes to our adult rugby.

“The collaboration of all our rugby cohorts in this regard is absolutely instrumental in the the collective success we have achieved and the implementation of the overall strategy.

“It is exactly what we mean when we say that DLSP is ‘One Club, Many Teams’.