BY KIERAN McCARTHY
A FORMER Welsh international rugby player is confident that he is the right man to bring the good times back to Clonakilty rugby.
This Sunday the Munster Junior League Division 1 season kicks off, with three West Cork clubs all waiting at the starting line – last season’s runners-up Bandon are away to champions Clonmel, Skibbereen entertain Old Christians and Clonakilty are home to St Senan’s at The Vale, all games start at 2.30pm.
Last season Clonakilty flirted nervously with relegation from Division 1 after winning only three of their 13 league games, but new coach Steve Forde is confident that his experience can help steer Clon towards calmer waters this year.
In 2013 the club lost its senior status when it was relegated to the junior ranks, and Clon has struggled to impose itself on MJL Division 1 since then – but Forde is confident of turning the tide.
‘If you look at my first job when I was brought here to Ireland in 2001, Highfield were junior and I was brought in as a player-coach – and then head coach and Director of Rugby role – to get them back to the All-Ireland League. I took Highfield from junior to the All-Ireland League, and all the way up to 1B at the time,’ explained Forde, who works as a financial consultant with Acorn Life in Cork city.
‘I am lucky to have the experience of that journey in implementing changes within a club, and getting the rewards from that. It’s not all about the smaller picture and only the results – results equal performance – but you have to get the underage structure right and get off-the-field activities right, and how the club does certain things.
‘In my time with Dolphin, we sustained eight years in Division 1A despite no one giving us a chance. What I learned from my time with Highfield and Dolphin, I can bring that experience to Clonakilty and help the club progress.’
Jones became involved with Clonakilty last season, in a Director of Rugby capacity to help then-manager Dave Lombard and the group, and he has now taken over as manager for the season ahead. Having worked with both Highfield and Dolphin before, and also been involved with Munster U18, U19 and U20 teams, Forde brings huge experience to the role.
‘We want to be better than we were last season, and that’s what we are working very hard towards achieving.
‘Do we want to get into the top four? Absolutely. But if we can’t achieve that, but we are still better than we were last year then that is a positive.
‘This is a young group that is learning the things that are needed to compete at this level. Sometimes with youth it can be fantastic, but other times they can make mistakes so we need to be patient too.’
Clon’s first three games see them home to St Senan’s, away to Abbeyfeale and home to Clanwilliam.
There is excitement in Bandon, last year’s Division 1 runners-up and surprise packets, ahead of the new season as the Regis Sonnes era gets underway. The highly-regarded Top 14 coach, who was involved with Bordeaux Beagles for the past four seasons, is now in charge of adult rugby in the club and he also has a watching brief on the underage section. Former Spanish international coach Sonnes, who won Top 14 titles with Toulouse in the mid-1990s, will also be involved with Bandon Grammar School.
Bandon face a tricky start to the season, away to Clonmel, home to Richmond and away to Kilfeacle in their first three games, before a derby clash against Clonakilty on October 23rd. Elsewhere, John Hayes remains in charge of the Skibbereen team that finished seventh in last year’s Division 1 campaign and that also successfully defended their County Cup title. Declan Coppinger, like last year, will train the team, and, boosting Skibb’s hopes this season, Ray Coppinger has returned to his home club after a spell with Clonakilty. South African Raymond Phillip Jardine has also joined Skibbereen for the season ahead.
Skibb’s first three games will see them home to Old Christians this Sunday, away to Cobh Pirates and then home to Newcastlewest. Skibbereen meet Bandon in early December and play Clonakilty in February 2017.