Portarlington was chosen as Leinster Junior Club of the Year for 2021/2022.

And with good reason.

Whenever so many others were inside sheltering from the monster Covid became, members of the club used it as an opportunity to sink their teeth into some of the issues that needed resolution.

It is that get-up-and-go attitude that is a hallmark of a small club with a big, beating heart.

“If you are not going forward then you are going backwards and so we are constantly looking to improve things, both on and off the pitch,” says Barry Lambkin, the Director of Rugby.

“We recently installed new LED training lights and a huge digital scoreboard and upgraded the showers, while plans are in place to increase the car parking space and develop a new outdoor facility for both training and match catering.

“We recently opened a walking track which circles our playing pitches and is lit by motion-activated LED lights. The track is used by parents during training.

“It is also available for members of the public to use as part of our campaign to make Portarlington RFC the centre of healthy activity for everyone in our community.

“We have recently built a new gym at the club which is used by senior and youths teams and all members can access in their own time.”

It is not just about what Portarlington has to offer. It is also about what the club has plans to do.

“We have received planning permission to extend the dressing rooms and install match lights to go with the dugouts we have built on two of the three pitches,” he adds.

The Laois club is all about the development of facilities and of people, reaching out to the community.

The mantra is ‘if your child plays in the club, this is your family’s club, not just your child’s club.’

“We encourage families to make use of the club’s facilities for kids’ birthday parties or adult celebrations, all aimed at making people feel that it is a place for their families to socialise,” adds Barry.

“This develops a feeling of ownership of the club and makes it easier for them to step forward as volunteers.”

Putting families at the club’s centre prompted a club trip to the Leinster v Munster game at the Aviva Stadium earlier this season.

Eight-coach loads of families from Portarlington made their way up to Dublin to cheer on Leo Cullen’s Boys in Blue and also their U12s boys who were participating in the half-time minis exhibition matches.

With 400 people on the trip, it was the club’s biggest-ever family trip and they hope to build on it in the future.

Of course, none of the success on the pitch could be possible without the army of volunteers who work in the background.

“Our Chairman David Hainsworth, Secretary Jackie McNulty and Treasurer Aidan Egan ensure that the club is managed in a professional manner,” says Barry.

“Paul Mannion looks after long-term planning, Kevin Hyland, Conan Uphill and Alan Hainsworth ensure that the clubhouse and grounds are constantly being developed and maintained to meet the needs of everyone at the club.”

Minis blitzes, post-match catering, teenage discos and social and fundraising events all require huge numbers of volunteers.

“Parents and members are always willing to do their bit to ensure that these occasions are a huge success,” he shares.

“Apart from the minis teams for girls, we have mixed teams for u5s and u7s and boys teams from u8s to u12s and numbers are growing consistently thanks to the hard work of our CCRO Páidí Mahon.

“Minis in Portarlington is all about inclusion and fun and so we run some ‘themed’ training sessions including our Movember Fundraiser which involves kids wearing fake moustaches at training and our Santa Hat Day.

“We currently have over 200 minis at the club. One of the nicest parts of Minis Rugby in Port is after training on Wednesdays when parents serve free hot chocolate to the kids in the clubhouse to warm them up.

“This gives the kids and parents and great opportunity to chat and strike up friendships off the field.”

It says so much about the people in the club that it also provides a lot of support to the Leinster Branch in another area.

“We contribute a disproportionately high number of referees into the Leinster system for a small club,” he says.

Niall Behan, Clive Wardrop, John Dunne, Fiona McConn and Keith Shanahan have committed to playing their part in supporting the game by taking up the whistle.

The club has gone out of its way to build relationships with the local football and GAA clubs to make sure there is an attitude of cooperation rather than competition for the time and talent of the players.

Another sign of Portarlington’s co-operative outlook is present in the development of the girls’, youths and women’s rugby through an amalgamation with Cill Dara to form PortDara, providing success as a club and producing Leinster and Ireland players.