Club In Focus: Dublin Dogos
November 7, 2023 3:45 pm Des Berry
One night in December 2016, four Argentineans playing rugby in Dublin came together, initially, to set up a Sevens team.
As soon as Diego Menendez, Gonzalo Saenz, Rodrigo Maruso and Adrian Belardo began to tease out the details, the idea quickly repealed in favour of the wider ambition to create a club for 15-a-side rugby.
At the time, Diego was part of the strength and conditioning coaching at Stillorgan RFC before embarking on this ambitious adventure.
“Originally, we were planning to set up an Argentinean team in Dublin,” says Diego, the Club President.
Thus, the Dublin Dogos were formed, named in relation to a large breed of fighting dog created in the early 20th century in Cordoba, central Argentina.
Diego took sage advice from Junior clubs’ doyen Alfie Acheson and Argentinean Jorge Zulkuoski, a coach for special needs kids, living in Ireland since 1980, on how to best go about having the Dogos officially recognised by the Leinster Branch of the IRFU.
“We talked to Alfie about our proposal and he stated our case at a Leinster Junior clubs meeting. The proposal was accepted.”
There was an agreement made with Dublin City University (DCU) to attract players, a commitment made to bring in foreign players as the Dogos were entered into the Leinster Metro League Divisions Three and 11 and a temporary home established at Coolmine RFC.
“Our idea was, perhaps, too ambitious. We brought over two players with European passports from the Currie Cup in South Africa.
“We also imported three young players from Montpellier, all of them coming to Ireland to further their studies. That is how it all started,” shares Diego.
“We were very naive in terms of the level we could play at and the level those players wanted to play at. They were going to play in a League that wasn’t for them, so they moved on.
“Originally, Coolmine was kind enough to let us play at their home ground. In April 2017, Gonzalo and myself organised a Tag Rugby event for 450 people.
“One of the things we do to differentiate ourselves is throw an Argentinean Barbeque, an ‘Asado,’ which brings a lot of people, a lot of families to our games.”
“This unique selling point enticed big attendances. It also helped to foster the club motto of ‘One Club, All Countries.’
“We do what we can to make it an attractive offering for our communities. We have 16 nationalities in our club. We offer a home away from home to the foreigners living and working in Ireland,” he says.
“The food, the music, the social aspect is as important as the playing side. Families from South Africa, Italy, France and Ireland come together to share moments.
“It was and is a ‘home away from home’ for anyone interested in joining in, as a player or as a social supporter. It fosters an amazing feeling of unity.”
The inaccessibility of Coolmine triggered a move to Monkstown Rugby Club which provided a venue on the DART line and ground close to the city centre where they stayed for four years.
“We moved to Monkstown RFC, where we were competing in the Leinster League Division Three,” adds Diego.
“We won the John Madden (Junior 4) Cup. After merging with AIB, we played against Birr in the promotion play-offs for Division 2B, but, sadly lost 21-18.”
The sweep of the pandemic across the world led to an exodus of players from the club as so many lost their jobs and returned to their countries, prompting a rebuild.
At Monkstown, the problem was that sharing the grounds with other sports ruled out a pre-season and also led to the pitch being handed back before the end of the season.
‘The Dogos’ looked for another place to call their home and Terenure was receptive to the Dogos playing at Lakelands Park.
“We have been going through a rebuilding phase and part of this has been the complete move to Terenure where my son Fionn plays for the U10s”, says Diego.
“We have great relationships with everyone at Lakelands. In fact, Gonzalo (Saenz) and myself cooked an Argentinean asado for Terenure’s celebrations of their first AIL title last May.”
The constant challenges of a rugby start-up and the search for the right place to play have led to name changes and a revolving door of players that come and go.
“We have a big turnover of players. People come to Dublin to work or study for one or two years and then move on.
“That is the nature of the beast,” states Diego.
“We are always assessing our players and the level at which they are best suited to play. The turnover of players has hindered our progress.
“We have moved from Leinster Junior Three to Metro 10 due to the loss of players, many leaving the country and others staying at Monkstown.
“In 2021, we merged with AIB when they were about to be disbanded, playing as the AIB Dogos.
“Then, last season, we merged to become the Monkstown Dogos before changing yet again to the Dublin Dogos for this season.
“In terms of numbers, we have a solid base of 15 or 16 players, who have been with us for a long time.
“We push hard on Facebook for recruitment. We have 40 players for this season, many of the new arrivals helping with the recruitment.”
There is a long-term, deeply committed ambition for the Dublin Dogos to have their grounds where they can finally flourish.
“We held on to the same core values. Those have not changed over the seven years,” he says.
“We want to build a team and a community around it. We don’t know when this will happen. We have some way to go on that path. It isn’t easy to find the right spot in Dublin.
“We want to tap into a local community, possibly somewhere that doesn’t have access to rugby.
“We want to foster integration of those coming from other countries and for those Irish kids and families, who don’t have access to the game.
“We want to drive the values of the game that exist in Argentina, foster respect, camaraderie, and friendship and push for teammates, not only to do well but to be better.
“People can benefit from these values and use them in their everyday lives,” Dieog adds.
“If we can bring youth players into the club, we can slowly try to impact their lives through the values of rugby.
“It is more difficult because you have to instil a completely new mindset into everybody. If we can do it, it would be such a positive thing to achieve.”
It sounds like a lot of work.
“Everything worth doing is a lot of work, isn’t it?”