Minis rugby has always been a very important part of Roscrea RFC and, in recent years, it has experienced an explosion in popularity with large groups of enthusiastic children training weekly and enjoying the game.

When the current pandemic hit, the resulting guidelines and restrictions meant that the club was faced with a situation where adapting and improvising were the key to maintaining this progression.

As a result, through meticulous planning, diligent endeavour and consistently making decisions with player welfare and safety as a priority, the Roscrea RFC minis section experienced another unexpected growth in numbers.

Rugby, even for young players in the normal course of training and playing the game, is a very physical sport and every part requires some level of personal contact with teammates and the opposition.

As such rugby has been adversely affected by the current non-contact protocols and guidelines for participating in sport.

The implementation of a program that avoids the fundamentals of the sport while still maintaining the core elements is a challenge in itself. This has called for positive lateral thinking and the use of all the assets available to their very best potential.

The minis group at Roscrea RFC decided at an early stage that a concerted team effort was necessary to navigate the current situation.

Not only was it important to have a unified training plan in place but it was also critical to maintain the trust and confidence of the parents and players involved.

Roscrea RFC Covid officer, Serena Cooper Brady and her team, Roscrea boys minis co-ordinator, Denis Delaney, and girls minis co-ordinator, Ciara Maher, worked on a strategy to facilitate training in an orderly and safe fashion.

Staggered starting times, separated training zones and mandatory online Covid forms before training all helped to provide a safe environment while gaining the confidence of the parents bringing their children to the club.

During a short stage of the local Offaly lockdown in October, the club found itself in the unusual position of having to provide training to minis players from three separate counties in three different locations, a logistical challenge that was met with enthusiasm and efficiency.

Another key element to the plan was a commitment to keeping parents, as well as the local public, well informed on all the activities and safety procedures in place at the club through consistent messaging.

Roscrea RFC Leinster Rugby Community Officer, Ger Stone, found increasingly creative methods of using his coaching skills while bringing new players to the club.

He visited schools before Christmas providing promotional leaflets and invites while making himself available to meet with new players and parents arriving at the club for the all-important first introduction and impression.

As part of his commitment to the minis groups he covered the weekly Sunday morning training sessions, always making himself available to help coaches on a practical level and as a resource for new methods and games to maintain the enjoyment level for players.

Many important lessons have been learnt at the club during this pandemic. A realisation that having committed and dedicated people in positions of critical actions is crucial to maintaining a continuation of the sport in turbulent times.

It is the personnel involved who are the true assets at any club.

‘Public Perception’ and how the club is generally viewed is a huge and often ignored element in keeping everyone happy and involved. Gaining and maintaining the trust and confidence of parents, coaches and players is a massive factor in a club’s growth and prosperity and can have unforeseen positive consequences.

As an example, minis rugby in Roscrea are very grateful to have received an unexpected influx of sponsorship from local businesses: RAE Auto Factors, Mulrooney’s Inver Oil, The Lunch Bag and Milltown Garden Centre were all delighted to be associated with the minis section of the club.

At a time when there are very few extracurricular activities available for school-aged children, a positive sporting outlet has never been more important.