AS another rugby season draws to a close, Skibbereen RFC can reflect on a hugely positive campaign.
At adult level, Skibb retained their Munster Junior League Division 1 status, something which club chairman Kieran Hourihane says ‘would have been a reasonable achievement in itself’.
On top of that though, it was success galore for the male underage teams while, for the first time, female underage sides turned out under the Skibb banner too.
In the U18 age-group, Bandon were the top team in the country, as they proved with victory over Skerries in the recent All-Ireland final. However, when they won the Munster final, it was only with two points to spare on Skibb, who then turned the tables in the South Munster decider, making it a double as they had already claimed the South Munster League.
Being able to respond to the provincial final loss by claiming two trophies was proof of the team’s resilience on the field, but Hourihane says that that is only one part of the equation.
‘The U18s are an incredible group of people,’ he says.
‘It’s all well and good to be good rugby players, and they are, but there’s so much more to them as well.
‘To be playing Bandon in the Munster final in Thomond Park was an amazing occasion and there was a late conversion that hit the crossbar which would have levelled the game, that’s how close it was.
‘They came back then to win the South Munster Cup and League, about seven of that team would have won Munster last year at U16, so there were good formlines coming through.’
Of course, the success hasn’t happened by accident or overnight. Hourihane says that the underage structure has benefited from good work over the course of 15 or 20 years, but that won’t stop just because the silverware has arrived. If anything, it will increase.
‘A couple of weeks ago, we had three teams playing league finals at UCC’s Farm on the same day,’ he says, ‘it was a like a super Saturday.
‘The U14s and U18s won and the U16s were beaten that day but the following week the U16s and U18s were both playing in the South Munster finals at PBC’s grounds.
‘On those teams, nearly all the players had come through from underage, every Saturday morning we’d have 200 minis playing and you need them in at that age, from six or eight upwards.’
This season, Skibb extended their remit further with the establishment of girls’ sides.
‘We had three teams this year,’ Hourihane says, ‘U13, U15 and U18, I think Bantry were the only West Cork club to have a girls’ side before that, at U18.
‘They came to us really, it was a case of players’ sisters showing interest and it proved very worthwhile, we’re going to continue it next year.’
And that’s the bottom line, making things worthwhile so that there is a follow-on to adult level. While it is nice to produce players who go on to represent Munster, it’s good clubmen and women who ensure the grassroots survival.
‘We’re trying to keep the West Cork flag flying,’ Hourihane says, ‘in many ways we’ve been punching above our weight.
‘One thing is that the parents of our underage players have been very strong, there’s a real family feel, and that’s important. You want players to come through to adult level, but that’s not easy and we see it with other sports too.
‘You have to provide them with the right facilities, good pitches – which was very difficult this year – and then you try to get results, but the main thing is to make it enjoyable.’