CLONAKILTY Rugby Club will hope that history will repeat itself.
The last time the club campaigned in Munster Junior League Division 2 was back in 1998/99 when successive promotions saw the club climb from Division 2 to Division 1 and through the AIL round-robin qualifiers in 2000/2001 into senior rugby.
The same path again would do nicely, but Clonakilty aren’t kidding themselves either, they know they’ve a long journey ahead to get back to where they want to be.
It’s hoped that a ‘back to basics’ philosophy can resurrect the fortunes of a club that has slipped from senior rugby in 2013 to next season competing in Division 2 of the Munster Junior League.
When the club lost its senior status in 2013 after a 26-23 home loss to Richmond in a Division 2B relegation play-off, then President Roy Maguire said that it was ‘a massive test of the club’s character and resilience.’
Those words are even more pertinent now as the club looks inwards – appointing Eddie Knowles as junior manager – to provide the inspiration to move upwards.
Losing becomes a habit and Clonakilty have lost more games than they have won in recent seasons, winning just two of their 15 games in their last campaign in Division 2B (2012/13), while the stats in their four seasons in MJL Division 1 have been equally disappointing.
Last season they won three out of 13 league games, it was the same record in the 2015/16 season, while in 2014/15 they won six of their 14 matches, and the season before that saw them win five of their 13 matches. Across those four seasons and 52 games, Clon won a total of 17 matches (33 per cent), but just six league matches in the past two seasons (23 per cent).
Clon have struggled to forge a winning habit, and a young team in junior rugby, like Clon has, will always find it hard against seasoned pros – but Division 2 rugby next season offers the chance for this team under Eddie Knowles an ideal opportunity for their young guns to learn, improve and win.
Last season’s manager Steve Forde has tipped big things ahead for Clon’s emerging talent, and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic when you see the names of rising talents like John Hodnett, Olan Deane (last season’s captain), Ross Cantwell, Donal McSweeney, Shane and Oige Scannell, Donal McSweeney, Eoin Deasy and Travis Coomey, who came back at the end of the season.
Clon will also be able to call on two of Bandon Grammar School’s shining stars from the past season, Colin Deane who has been in with the Munster U18 schools’ squad and the Ireland U18 Clubs and Schools squad, and Sean Hudson who impressed at full back for Bandon Grammar in their Munster Schools Senior Cup run.
That youth mixed with the experience of Steven Cotter (captain for next season), Courtney Canning, Ger McCarthy and Batt Duggan will give new manager Eddie Knowles plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
There’s talent on the way up through the underage ranks – they got to the quarter-final of the Munster U16 Plate and the U14s recently won the South Munster Cup final against Cork Con – and a pathway in place to the junior team, as can be seen by the age profile of the junior team.
What also helps is that there’s no doom and gloom surrounding Clon rugby despite their relegation to Division 2. They’re not basking in pity and feeling sorry for themselves. It’s the opposite; they’re already on the front foot for next season and held their AGM last week. The committee is keen to get the right structures in place for the 2017/18 campaign and they see no reason to be fearful.
Instead of Division 1 derbies against high-flying Bandon and Skibbereen next season, Clon will come up against Kinsale, Ballincollig and Mallow, and they hope that the short-term pain of relegation and Division 2 rugby will result in long-term gains. They only need to look at their own club history to see that.