Clubs reflect on positives from cancelled 2019/20 campaign
June 26, 2020 10:11 am Site Editor
Although this season will always be remembered as the one that got cut short by a pandemic, every club in Leinster will look back on some amazing days and magic moments that they were blessed to be able to enjoy before COVID-19 struck.
Whether it was the opening of Balbriggan RFC’s clubhouse or the clean sweep for Wicklow’s girls at Energia Park, every club did their bit to offer a positive sporting opportunity to their communities with memorable highs along the way.
We invited all clubs to send us their season highlights and here they are together with Leinster Branch President Robert Deacon’s own thoughts on the 2019/20 season.
Even though the season was cut short so cruelly for all of us, there is still a number of abiding memories for me to recall.
Starting with the Youths and Girls Finals days held in Energia Park, both wonderful spectacles and great occasions. Attending the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior and Junior Cup draws which led to me witnessing several excellent matches in both competitions. Such a shame that they never got to be completed.
However, the future is bright for the game in our province with the standard displayed throughout our underage system.
Being present at the Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup draw, another great competition in our season which again, unfortunately was not completed.
Presenting various trophies to victorious club teams for success in completed league campaigns and, in particular, attending the final and presenting the Leinster Senior Cup.
The warm welcome and hospitality I received from all clubs across the province I had the pleasure of visiting, both for matches and social occasions, and the great regret of not getting the opportunity to visit many more before the season end.
The honour for me to present caps to the Leinster Women’s team at a wonderful ceremony in the RDS library.
Finally, our professional team who had to date gone through the season unbeaten. Stand out memories in an amazing run were the back-to-back Champions Cup victories against Northampton and a resilient away victory against Glasgow in the Guinness PRO14.
All memories that I will never forget and a season that will be remembered by all for what might have been…
C’est la vie!
President, Leinster Rugby 2019/20
Ashbourne Rugby Club had a great 19/20 season. We started well with four wins in-a-row for our First and Second teams and emerged relatively injury-free.
This form continued all through the league with our Firsts winning the league with two games yet to be played. Our Seconds also continued well and finished second in their league. This was the highlight of the year, as we had won the league twice in three years and qualified to play in the Round Robin for promotion to AIL.
Along with playing in the league we also took part in the McGowan and Spenser Cups which we won.
In October, we took part in the All-Ireland Junior Cup which we had previously won three times in-a-row and were hoping to win a fourth consecutive time. Unfortunately, we were beaten by Kilfeakle in the semi-final who were worthy winners and went on to win the cup.
The club was on track for another successful year prior to COVID-19 hitting, but we look forward to the 2020/21 Season.
President, Ashbourne RFC
The 2019/20 season will live long in the memory of Athy RFC for various reasons.
From coming within 48 hours of closing our historic grounds due to insurance renewal difficulties to winning the J1 Leinster League 2B in a nail-biting last match ‘winner takes the title’ decider v Arklow.
There is no doubt that our elevation to Leinster League 2A will lift all our teams and hopefully encourage others to come back and help Athy RFC stay in Leinster League 2A and hopefully even push for promotion or a promotion play-off place.
Athy RFC is one of the very few clubs that are fielding teams at all age grades (male and female). This has not happened accidentally. It has been a goal of the club for some years now that we must put a pathway in place for our Youths players to integrate seamlessly with our senior set up.
The recent success stories of our players, Joey Carbery, Jeremy Loughman and Martin Moloney have shown that there is a pathway to the very top of Irish rugby. Their success has shown that through proper coaching, hard work, dedication, and a slice of natural talent that rugby dreams can be achieved. The challenge we put to our Youths is ‘who will be next to wear the green jersey of Ireland?’
As we all know the season came to an abrupt halt and at the time of writing the rugby community is still unclear when we will be able to return to playing rugby safely and indeed what the game of rugby may look like.
There were several underage teams (male and female) that had won area titles and had advanced to the latter stages of League and Cup competitions. Unfortunately, we will never know what might have happened. However, the club recognizes the dedication of the coaches, players, and parents of all our teams throughout the season and we say thank you so much for your commitment.
Going forward the spirit of Athy RFC is strong. Buoyed by our J1s Leinster League success, the club looks forward to new adventures. The structures are in place for our Youths to compete and challenge in all competitions. We look forward to 2020/21 with great anticipation.
Hon. Sec, Athy RFC
The highlight of the 2019/20 season for Balbriggan RFC was undoubtedly the completion of our €1m clubhouse development. Established in 1925, we have waited a long time to finally have a clubhouse of our own to call home.
We had to overcome numerous hurdles on the way. Many doubted if we would ever get there. This year we did. Other clubs will remember 2019/20 as the unfinished season. We will remember this year a lot more fondly than that. The clubhouse was completed in time for our Men’s final match of the season.
President, Balbriggan RFC
My best memory is from Blackrock’s November 30 match away to Sligo. We’d made the journey to Strandhill and in the final moments of the challenging match, Sligo were ahead by six points. An injury time converted try led to Rock’s thrilling last-minute win 26-27.
It was a fantastic away victory, giving us great reason to celebrate. There was a large group of Blackrock supporters who had made the trip for an overnight in Sligo and the camaraderie, coupled with the win made it altogether, a truly memorable weekend.
President, Blackrock College RFC
The 2019/20 season proved to be another successful year for the club in a myriad of ways.
The continued growth of our Minis section has been great to see while at Youth level the selection of seven girls and four boys for Midlands squads shows the continued progress they are making.
In addition, our Senior team has continued to grow and finished a very competitive season in third on the league table.
At provincial level, the club was delighted to see former youth players Michael Milne (Leinster) and Jack Regan (Ulster) make senior debuts, Ronan Loughnane’s success with the Leinster and Ireland Under-19s and the continued success of Peter Dooley (Leinster) and Shane Delahunt (Connacht).
Padraig Burns (PRO) and Michael Coghlan (President)
As for most clubs, 2019/20 was a particularly challenging year for Boyne RFC given the suspension of all rugby activities at all levels throughout our club from March 12.
At the time, Leinster League Division 1B had been completed aside from one game which would have no bearing on the final standings.
Therefore, we concluded the season in fourth place of a very tough and well-fought league campaign.
The Boyne Youth section were in the process of another successful season and our Under-16s, Under-17s and Under-18s were still in their respective Leinster Cup Competitions. Our Under-15s and Under-17s had reached the semi-final and final respectively of their Leinster League competitions.
Our club were preparing to host the Under-15 Premier and Division 1 finals on Saturday, March 28, and Under-17 North East finals on April 15; an honour we would hope to have again in the coming season.
As is the case in every club, there was huge disappointment for all our Youths and Minis players with the premature but unavoidable ending of the season.
The business of running the club off the pitch also proved challenging but one which we managed to work through and continue to do so over the next months in anticipation of the start of the next season. Our membership numbers are still excellent with over 300 Youths and Minis and almost 200 adult members.
As club photographer, the most memorable photos I took this year were in Longford when our J1s played them on Sunday, February 16. What started out as a glorious sunny day ended in complete muck and rain, and a pitch in terrible condition. But then again, I always think they make the best photos. And even though we lost that day, our lads were still smiling coming off the pitch.
Jeremy O’Callaghan (Hon. Sec), Paddy McCleery (DOR) and Judith Chalmers (Club Photographer)
Clondalkin RFC had a great 2019/20 season. A highlight for our senior team was beating DSLP away to secure our 1B status.
Another huge highlight was winning the Chris Stapleton Cup and a thriving Mini and Youth section under our first lady President Úna O’Connor.
All at Clondalkin are looking forward to the return of rugby and our great club reopening.
Co. Carlow FC
There are plenty of positives to take from the campaign just gone but here are just a few starting with our Under-18s winning the Division 1 league in Mullingar just before lockdown.
Remembrance Night, a first for Carlow Rugby, where we remembered past players and members by having a family member light a candle at a beautiful ceremony, that will be forever in people’s hearts.
Barry Gray playing with Leinster & Ireland Under-18 squads.
The Bees playing in the RDS Arena at the Leinster v Benetton Champions Cup game, our first time playing there, great to see so many happy faces on both parents and kids.
On May 16, the night that had been marked for my President’s dinner, some fellow committee members and players put together a video to highlight the night and remember my year as President.
President, Co Carlow FC
CYM Rugby Club’s Health & Wellbeing team provide essential services and support within the club.
They also leverage the strength of club members to support charities through fundraising. During the first half of the season they helped raise almost €4000 for Men’s Health charities during Movember, as well as €900 for Focus Ireland and Irish Hospice Foundation as part of our RWC breakfast morning.
The cutting short of our season, only spurred them into action again on behalf of others and they raised an additional €4000 for the Irish Cancer Society with a Lockdown Running Challenge. I am proud to say thank you to everyone involved in this great work.
President, CYM Rugby Club
My special moment of the DLSP season is one that admittedly has a tiny element of personal bias! It was when our fantastic group of Under-20s, many of whom have been with Salmo since they were toddlers, secured their league title and with a 100 per cent record, when beating a smashing Coolmine side in what was (inevitably) a winner-takes-all final league fixture of the season.
And on what transpired to be the final weekend of the season!
A marvellous match only secured in the last minute when my son Jake kicked a penalty to make it 18-10 Salmo! Treasured memories!!
This year one of the highlights for me as President was when Adam Doyle accepted the position of Head Coach and Director of Rugby at our AGM. We all felt confident that under his leadership we could experience a fresh and more adventurous style of play.
At the beginning of the season, apart from the defeat to Ashbourne, we enjoyed six consecutive wins. Unfortunately, our luck changed and we subsequently suffered defeat after defeat. We learned our lesson realising that we had been overachieving.
Looking forward, we believe that we are now on the right track and are determined to do ourselves justice on the rugby field next season, COVID-19 permitting.
Working with underage players is always a pleasure. In Carlingford, we have Carlingford Knights.
Every weekend we hold training sessions for Under-8s up to Under-12s. It is very encouraging to host over 100 children hailing from Omeath, Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula, home to the legendary Kearney boys.
We look forward to the years ahead when these youngsters will enjoy playing with Dundalk Rugby Club.
John Mc Kevitt
President, Dundalk Rugby Club
Emerald Warriors RFC
So many fantastic highlights this season, with many milestones for our club. From hosting the largest LGBT+ sporting tournament of 2019, Union Cup, setting out our vision to create the highest standard of rugby tournament through advancing International gay rugby, generating pride in inclusive rugby and for the first time ever, women’s participation in Union Cup with inclusion and equality being of the utmost importance.
The phenomenal support from local grass roots rugby clubs, the Leinster Executive and IRFU was incredible, not to mention, for the first time, having both organisations march with us in Dublin Pride.
The visibility of such allies is humbling and so significant, showing how far we have come in the hugely positive direction with inclusivity in Irish rugby, finishing off with such strong team performances, and a fantastic win in Energia Park on our final game of the season.
President, Emerald Warriors RFC
To say that the season just ended was unparalleled, would be an understatement.
The high was, undoubtedly, the winning of the Leinster 1B title, after an unbeaten campaign of 13 successive wins which left us at the top. This was unprecedented in our history and a tribute to all the coaches and players.
The lows were the unsatisfactory leagues at J1 and J2 with many cancelled matches. However, it all fades into insignificance because of Covid 19, and importantly, all our members have remained safe.
Honorary Secretary, Monkstown FC
The highlight of the season for me was the resurgence of our Senior men. Last year we struggled to get one team on the pitch and this season our First XV and Second XV played all their games with the Firsts winning Leinster League 2A.
The real cherry on top though was winning our first Towns Cup fixture in almost 10 years, we had huge support from club members on the day and they were rewarded with a fine performance from our Senior men – hopefully it is the start of a more successful era in the Towns Cup.
President, Mullingar RFC
Although cut short 2019/2020 was another season of success both on and off the field for Naas.
Our Senior Mens 1st XV still had a chance of making the Division 1A play-offs, while the 2nd XV destroyed Tullamore in the opening round of the Provincial Towns Cup and were eagerly awaiting a clash with Tullow.
For the girls Erin King played for the Ireland Under-18s against Scotland and made the Ireland Under-18s Sevens squad, while Erin along with Eileen Murray and Ruth Campbell made the Leinster Under-18s Sevens squad.
Although most of the silverware had still to be handed out, record numbers at all age underage levels both male and female, meant that we were very strong and in contention at all grades. This is testament to all the hard work by over 100 coaches involved in the club.
The quality of our underage programme was emphasised by many of our players helping Naas CBS and Newbridge College to unprecedented performances in 2020.
Off the field there were many memorable occasions such as our Naas RFC takes on the Chaser night, which tested the knowledge – or lack of it – of our members.
The Coronavirus has not stopped the activities as our 14/16/18 girls who have been set weekly challenges through video link by Irish international Jenny Murphy.
PRO, Naas RFC
Old Wesley RFC
I was honoured to be elected President of Old Wesley RFC for 2019/20 and I set out to attend as many games, engagements and club dinners as possible. It was unfortunate the way the season ended as I was hoping for a few highlights at the end of the season.
On the pitch, the highlights were watching our Metro 2 team retaining their league title, going through the season unbeaten, and the First XV’s away performance against City of Armagh where they produced their finest performance of the season winning 40-13.
President, Old Wesley RFC
In the off-season we had big developments in clearing areas of waste ground, installing a viewing mound by the first pitch and increasing our parking capacity.
On coaching and admin we put in place a new coaching team for the Men’s side and challenged for promotion. We took the brave step of accepting promotion for the PortDara Falcons but were very competitive in the division.
A new Minis coordinator gave an extra drive for a very enthusiastic group and our coaching and playing numbers grew. Also establishing a dedicated girls team at Under-10 to add to the Under-12s from last year was positive.
On the pitch there were some great performances for our Youths boys but too many close defeats. To take a positive, we again had some players moving from Youths squads to the Senior set-up while also having area and provincial training squad representation.
It was a very good year for the PortDara Youths girls with all three teams in play-off positions when lockdown finished the season. A great boost during lockdown was having one of the girls joining the Leinster Under-18 squad.
How the club pulled together to support and raise money for the family of Andy Broughan (who suffered devastating injuries caused by Meningitis) was what being part of a club is all about and is something we can be very proud of.
The effort from Clive Doody who walked 476km was immense and he was supported by the Falcons and club members who assisted with promotion and administration of the fundraising drive. The success of this project is something which will not be forgotten for a long time.
During lockdown, the planning for summer work and getting back to action is moving ahead with so many people getting involved. We look forward to the many challenges of the new season with excitement and confidence both on and off the pitch.
Chairman, Portarlington RFC
Having returned to the Leinster League after 10 years in the All-Ireland League, we were under no illusion as to how challenging the season was going to be for us, and so it transpired.
The highlight for me would have been our three-game unbeaten run at the end of the season, when we faced the very real prospect of relegation. The resilience that was shown by the players, in particular on our visit to the deserving league champions, Ashbourne, warmed the hearts of the Seapoint faithful and augurs well for the 20/21 campaign.
To have ultimately secured a spot in the All-Ireland Junior Cup was an added bonus and demonstrates just how competitive this league is.
President, Seapoint Rugby Club
The season just ended had, for me, many highlights from the opening of our state of the art 3G pitch to the cliffhanging success of our Second XV in finishing on top of their league.
At Youth and Mini level our club continues to grow and thrive thanks to the selfless work of our coaches and support from parents. We are a community club and the continuing support we receive is the backbone of our club. Our sponsors too are invaluable to our growth and success.
However, for sheer intensity and desire, the trip to Ardgaoithe for our AIL fixture versus Clonmel RFC stands out. Reduced to 14 men after 11 minutes on a cold wet winter’s day, the sense of pride which I felt in the entire group of players, management and supporters that day is my highlight.
An outstanding team display saw us edge a tremendous one-point victory. Truly a heartwarming experience for me personally.
President, Skerries RFC
St. Mary’s RFC
Like all other clubs, our season was cut short but we here at St Mary’s College RFC got to celebrate one trophy thanks to our Under-20s who won the Premier 2 League in early March.
At Under-20 level, the beginning of the season can often be campaign defining with the qualifiers and new players and trying to get the team to bed in together.
We had a new coaching ticket on board with Brian McGovern (Head Coach), Eddie Devitt (Backs Coach) and Peter Smyth (Assistant Coach) and we returned to training in the middle of July which got all the lads bought into the season objectives.
Away trips to Navan, Old Belvedere and Galwegians before Christmas saw the side victorious in a series of close -run games.
Home games saw the team cutting loose recording bonus-point victories against Buccaneers, Corinthians, Dublin University and NUIG.
The last game prior to the Christmas break against NUIG was critical in the context of our overall season. A last-minute try to give us a bonus-point victory against our nearest competitors was crucial to opening up a substantial gap on the league table between ourselves and the other sides.
The team was captained by Sean Bourke who led by example both on and off the pitch. Luke Mannion was a standout player who scored five tries in one game, a regular nominee for man-of-the-match.
George Hassett was also a standout, he played both prop and hooker during the season and even chipped in with a few tries. Loris Nikolov, who returned from a long-term injury, played great during the season. We discovered Michael McEvoy can not only play centre but also wing and was a consistent performer throughout the season. Craig Walshe who also returned from injury in the latter part of the season, provided a boost to the squad.
As well as them, a special mention should go to those who lined out for the Junior teams in the club which was needed during the season.
As we now turn to look towards next season, we will have the same coaching and management teams as this season. All these players have great futures ahead of them at 20s, Firsts and Junior rugby.
President, St Mary’s College RFC
Suttonians RFC set out with a season’s objective of a top four finish for both their Men’s First XV and Women’s First XV.
Before the lockdown, the men achieved their objective finishing third whilst the women’s season ended early with Suttonians having games in hand and lying a credible fifth.
The season was marked with Suttonians announced as joint winners of the Energia Positive Energy Award following on from the previous season’s win of the Leinster Junior Club of the Year.
President, Suttonians RFC
The premature (but necessary) end to the season brought a feeling of frustration and disappointment to all within our club. With the abrupt finish we lost the opportunity to complete, what had been until then, a most successful and enjoyable season.
Notwithstanding that, the club is hugely proud of the successes of finishing in third place in the AIL Div 1A, the winning of the Leinster Senior Cup, the inter-varsity Dudley Cup, the Metro Div 1 League, the inter-varsity Under-20 Conroy Cup and the Metro Div 4 League title.
We look forward with great anticipation to a measured return to rugby action and to the resumption of club activities.
President, UCD RFC
The 2019/20 season will live long in the memory for Wanderers. It was our 150th year as a rugby club and we certainly enjoyed the opportunities to celebrate.
From our Men’s and Women’s exhibition games vs Dublin University – as Ireland’s two oldest clubs, to a Gala Ball for 980 guests and from our Minis playing at halftime of the Leinster/Saints game at a packed Aviva Stadium to the launch of a book on the history of the club (available on our website and bookshops) – members both old and young came together to remember the past.
We then turned to the future by being in a would be ‘play-off spot’ in the AIL and taking the first steps towards building a new modern clubhouse.
150 years old and we’ve only just begun.
John Fitzpatrick (President) and Mike Shelly
Wexford Wanderers RFC
As President of Wexford Wanderers RFC, a pleasing part of the season was that all our underage teams played in their premier leagues with the highlight being our Under-18.5 team winning the Leinster title.
However, the downside is that once in a lifetime you might be lucky enough to win an All-Ireland title, but due to the lockdown we as a club were denied this opportunity at the semi-final stage.
President, Wexford Wanderers RFC
One of my favourite memories of the past year was a superb day for Wicklow Rugby Club as our fantastic Under-14, -16 ad -18 girls teams took unprecedented wins in all three Leinster finals in Energia Park.
A huge Wicklow crowd attended on a briskly cold December day with a wide representation from across the club showing their support including almost the full contingent of our Senior Women’s team.
As President, I could not have been more proud of how our girls represented themselves on and off the pitch that day. We are a family and community club that has accepted and embraced the women’s game for what it is – a huge addition to the club. And, in a short space of time, girls and Women’s rugby in Wicklow has seen huge growth and no shortage of success.
The club identified the potential for growth in Women’s rugby early in play and we have the right people in place across the board with fantastic coaches, managers and coordinators working together to grow and expand this section of the club.
This year our Senior Women’s team have secured promotion to the AIL for the first time in the club’s history. We are so proud of all aspects of the club as we continue to build for the future on strong foundations.
President, Wicklow RFC