BY SEÁN HOLLAND
WHEN Damien Hicks heard Bantry Bay RFC are the recipients of the Munster Club Age-Grade Section of the Year Award, it left him speechless.
This award recognises the rising number of rugby players coming through underage in Bantry and the success the club has enjoyed in the past year. It also covers the youth side of rugby from U13s to U18s, for both boys and girls.
‘I was absolutely shocked we won the award,’ said Damien Hicks, who is heavily involved in the Bantry club.
‘I was rang by the secretary of the club and told that the President of Munster had been on to say that we’d won the Age Grade of the Year award and, to be honest, I was speechless. The thing is, it’s not rewarding any one team, it’s rewarding all age groups, volunteers, and coaches within the club instead of one team being the standout.’
The Bantry club enjoyed plenty of success on the field this year, as Hicks highlighted the top achievements in both the boys’ and girls’ underage sections.
‘On the girls’ side of things, it’s ourselves and Dunmanway amalgamated underage. The U18s won the Munster Bowl and then the U14s won the Munster Cup and Munster League; they went undefeated for the whole season. For the U18s it was massive because at the start of the year we were struggling for numbers. Then for the U14s to go undefeated for the whole season was extraordinary,’ Hicks outlined.
‘In the boys, we won the U18 Munster Cup which was massive. It was the first time the club qualified for the competition, never mind winning it. The target last year was just to qualify for it because the club never qualified for it before. Obviously winning it then was incredible. It was a great achievement considering the facilities we’ve had.’
Bantry Bay RFC has come a long way in developing their facilities, and that can be traced back to all the hard work of the coaches and volunteers who are involved.
‘The club has never had fantastic facilities. For two years we had to rent out a pitch in Mahon up in Cork for the youth sides. Then we managed to rent an old soccer field out by Durrus and we increased the site into a big enough area to make a rugby pitch,’ Hicks said.
‘Our facilities wouldn’t be top-class but we have overachieved on the field for what we have and it’s purely down to the people we have in the club all pulling together. If you create an environment where it’s all about silverware it’s not the way to go. You just want kids to come out, have fun and enjoy the sport but still develop them as players.’
Hicks also stressed that the aim of the club isn’t to bring home trophies every year but to develop the youth system within the club.
‘It’s not the aim of the club to go out every year and say “Oh, we have to be in this final or we should win this competition”. There are lots of peaks and troughs,’ he said.
‘Some years you could have a really strong squad at a certain age group and other years you might be stuck for numbers, but each team just wants to play as much as possible and enjoy the sport. Silverware isn’t the main aim, it’s all about developing the players and making them into the best rugby players they can be.’
This is also the club where current Munster stars Fineen and Josh Wycherley started, as did Ireland international Enya Breen; this trio honed their skills in Bantry Bay RFC before moving to the next level.
‘When you see players like Josh and Fineen and Enya Breen, who played all their youth rugby through Bantry, it gives all the kids something to look up to,’ Hicks said.
‘Josh and Fineen, any time they are not involved with Munster they'd give a text on a Friday evening saying where is training and what time is it. It wouldn’t matter what age group it is, they give their time to help out. It’s the same with Enya, it doesn’t matter if it’s boys or girls they’re willing to help out.
‘It’s brilliant for the kids just to see that if you play with the club no matter what our facilities are like you can achieve great things. It’s a great message for all the kids that you don’t have to go to a private school to reach the top. The pathway might be a bit tougher but if you’ve got the right mindset you can make it here.’