Families at ‘beating heart’ of Ratoath Rugby Club
March 3, 2022 2:54 pm Site Editor
Ratoath was not even two years old and nothing more than a bare field when David Rowland walked into the club around Christmas 2006.
“I was brought down there by Tony Murphy, the then president of the club. He recognised me from our playing days and pestered me to come on down,” he says.
“I landed down there to find out they were trying to push adult participation through tag rugby. Embarrassingly, I had no idea what tag was at the time.
“Unfortunately, a gentleman ran down the pitch with the ball and I did what I was trained to, I smashed him.
“I could hear Maura Coulter, a former Ireland women’s international, cry out: ‘Oh, Christ! No, it’s tag’.
“That was my introduction to the club.”
Speaking now as club President, David remarks: “We were very lucky from the start to have founding members like Dominic Kenna, Derek Gillen, Dave Marrinan, Tony Murphy, Richard Whitty, Mark Coatsworth, Maura and others.
“They had the drive to go out to the schools and the community to recruit players, and the foresight to get two 40-foot containers which are still there as office portakabins.
“We converted one into a changing room and the other into a kitchen and social space, work done by the late Rob Kevelighan, who also cemented in our first set of goalposts.
“Rob was a great man, who we sadly lost to cancer last spring, and he is very fondly remembered,” he notes.
David began his coaching career with the Ratoath U-15s, helping out Dermot Doyle and Tony Grehan, quickly realising there was no adult team and no place for players to go once they graduated from age grade rugby.
In 2008, he started a veterans team, the Legends, which consisted of just six players who had played the game, Coulter, activated as scrum-half and head coach, and 11 who had only played tag.
The first match was against Coolmine, who had agreed to play within the spirit of the game, rather than to the letter of the law, such was the disparity in basic skills.
They played Coolmine twice, Navan twice, Suttonians and Ardee in that first season and had to take their lumps and bumps.
The simple exercise of picking up the phone and calling anyone and everyone living in the area who had ever played rugby, David’s version of recruiting, led to more bodies and a first ever win for the club against Dundalk, three matches into the 2009/10 season.
“I was lucky enough to be chosen as the first club captain, an honour I hold higher than the club presidency, quite simply because it is a role given to you by your peers,” says David.
Labelled the fastest growing town in Ireland, Ratoath was a prime target for the big established sports clubs to thrive, with Ratoath GAA sprouting wings to win back-to-back Meath senior football crowns in 2019 and 2020.
Ratoath Harps is a strong force in underage soccer and the new rugby club improved the product on the field steadily, claiming the Magee Cup in 2016 with a memorable win over North Meath in the final under lights at Balbriggan.
However, the new experience of winning and being promoted to a higher level was not conducive to progress with many veterans on an ageing team choosing to hang up their boots after that cup win.
The younger players struggled to adapt to the extra demands that came with playing the game at a higher grade. By the end of the 2016/17 season, David was left with no team to train, and it took some work to get the magic back, to hit that sweet spot between socialising and competing.
In 2018, David had what he called “the good fortune” to connect with past Ratoath youth players Ross Gillian and Alex Coakley, who were playing for St Mary’s and Clontarf, respectively.
A reformed senior team hit the ground running to win the Dunne Cup in 2019 in a nail-biter against County Carlow.
Their return prompted a rise in interest, strong enough for David to retire from playing when a first experience at loosehead against Tallaght completed his representation in every position in the team for the club from the front row to full-back.
“I thought I got away with it the Monday after the game. But, Tuesday and Wednesday reminded me that while the heart is willing, the body is unable to keep going,” muses the 43-year-old.
But David’s influence at the club has not waned since hanging up his boots. Having a President heavily involved in the construction business was exactly what the club needed to drive their plans forward.
He has been leaving his mark on the club’s facilities for current and future generations of rugby players in Ratoath to enjoy.
Redeveloping the facilities is a huge focus for the club right now. When the land they had been renting for the previous 10 years came onto the market a number of years back, the club set out a redevelopment plan and have not looked back.
“Buying the land was a big step, it meant we could invest further. Our old pitch was little more than a pasture. It was never properly drained and was regularly unplayable in winter,” says Ratoath chairman Conor Kiely.
“We got a Sports Capital Grant to help with the build of a new pitch, and opened it up for play in 2018. It is an excellent sand-based pitch, and visitors have remarked that it is the finest surface in the north-east Leinster area.
“We’ve recently done the groundwork on a second pitch. We brought in a lot of top-soil onto what was originally a flood plain, built it up and levelled it off.
“We are hoping to receive a new Sports Capital Grant to assist in laying the second pitch to the same standard as the first. Fingers crossed,” adds Conor.
But building a new clubhouse is the big challenge right now.
“Our portakabins have served us well for changing rooms and a social space, but they’re no longer fit for purpose. They are dilapidated and have been vandalised through the years.
“We’ve completed the core foundations and blockwork for the new clubhouse, with roof and windows next up. Then, we are into the internal fit-out as well as a car park during the summer.
“Progress has been interrupted by Covid more than once, but we fully intend to be operational for the start of the 2022/23 season. We anticipate a busy springtime.” says Conor.
“People have been very good to us. The local community really rowed in behind a recent car draw, and businesses in the area have been supporting us with pitch-side advertising.
“We’re lucky to be getting great help from David and other friends of the club, who are in the construction industry.
“We would be nowhere without this help. So, by the end of the summer, we will have a single-story building with changing-rooms, showers, and a good-sized social space which is probably the most important aspect for us.
“It is just about having an area where parents and players can come together on busy weekend mornings to have a cup of tea and a chat and a few treats after a game.
“We’re a family club. We want family-friendly facilities and a clubhouse as the beating heart of the place,” he states.
It doesn’t end there. There are goals to add-on to the facilities to make it more attractive to current and new players.
“Beyond the clubhouse and the second pitch, we plan to have an astro training area and further developments down the road, including floodlighting and a biodiverse nature walkway.
We also plan to have a future phase of the clubhouse building. The foundations and build were designed to support a second storey and we have every intention of building upwards a couple of years down the road.
“But, for this year, we just need to open it up and enjoy the new space that everyone has been eagerly waiting for.”