WALTER Young describes Saturday’s All-Ireland U18 Club final as the biggest game in Skibbereen RFC’s history, but he has no fears about the capacity of the team’s players to cope with the occasion.
Along with Kieran Shannon, John Hayes, Eugene Curran and Kieran Sheehan, Young is one of five coaches to the team and he believes that recent big-match exposure will stand to the team when they take on Navan in Mullingar (3pm).
‘In fairness to the players, they’ve been handling things exceptionally well,’ he says.
‘You must remember that they’ve won two Munster titles, U16 and now U18, and a lot of the team played in the U18 final last year, when they lost by two points to Bandon.
‘The All-Ireland is another step up but they’re used to the big occasion. When we’ve been training since the semi-final, it hasn’t been about the All-Ireland but more going through our routine.’
Young has been involved with some of the team for the best part of a decade.
‘They hard knew what a rugby ball looked like!’ he laughs.
‘You were tying their bootlaces back then, but they do pick it up quickly and you could see with how they passed the ball and their handling and running lines that there were some good players there, as there would be any group of U8s.
‘As they progressed, through the minis and the individual age-grades up to U14, it became clear that there was a good group ahead of them and just behind them and this team is a combination of those groups.
‘It’s never a one-team team, you always need a strong crop of 25 or so and thankfully we have that.’
As well as the possibility of success for this particular team, Young feels that there will be positive benefits to Skibb as a club.
‘It’s the biggest game in the club’s history,’ he says.
‘The adult side would have been in one or two junior finals, but to make an All-Ireland final is huge. We’re a small club in the bigger picture, so to see our name in an All-Ireland, the most southerly rugby club in the country, makes it a huge occasion.
‘You’d imagine that there will be a knock-on effect, you see that when any sport is doing well, but the club has a very strong underage structure, Margaret Coombes did great work as the coordinator and now as president too, I’d say she knows every underage player by name.
‘Even last Saturday, the minis, which would be U6-U12, they finished their season and our captain Jamie O’Driscoll and vice-captain Michael Veale brought the Munster trophy down.
‘The kids were getting pictures taken and there was bound to be encouragement taken, that with hard work and commitment, they can get there in a few years.’
Navan will be tough opponents, but Young is confident that Skibb can prosper by focusing on their own strengths.
‘We’ve been trying to pick up as much as we can,’ he says, ‘through social media and friends of friends, at the end of the day, we don’t know a whole pile about them but we’re not overly concerned.
‘Obviously, they’ll get possession and attack us but we have a very strong defence and in the Munster final and All-Ireland semi-final we didn’t concede a try. There’s great discipline there and if you have that it’s a huge advantage, when our chance comes then we’ll be in a position to try to take it.
‘They will be tough to beat, definitely, Navan is renowned for rugby, but we’re there on merit.’
With Bandon taking part in the U16 final, Saturday in Mullingar will provide a real showcase for West Cork rugby.
‘Without doubt,’ Young says, ‘it’s a huge achievement by Bandon to make the U16 final on the back of winning the U18 last year.
‘To have two West Cork clubs playing is a massive endorsement of all the hard work that goes in, and we’ll have support from all around, we have players from Rosscarbery to Sherkin Island to Mizen Head.
‘There are five coaches involved but we’re just lucky to be here now, so many people have put in hard work over the years.
‘It’s a great opportunity for the lads, when they meet up in 20 years’ time they’ll be able to say, “Remember when we played in the All-Ireland.”