As a nation held its breath for what seemed like an eternity in the final moments of the Ireland vs France deciding match of the 6-nations competition, Ireland’s heroic squad held off wave after wave of relentless French attack, a team desperately trying not to be defeated on the sacred ground of rugby in France, the Stade de France and as the final whistle finally sounded to the deafening roar of the Irish fans, at last we at home could take the cushion from our face and breath again and as a glorious farewell tribute banner was rolled out for probably Ireland Rugby’s greatest legend of all time Brian O’Driscoll, we put the kettle on for that much postponed cup–of tea/hot whiskey!

As the medals and trophy were presented to the victors under a glorious fireworks display, the panel would immediately turn to focus attention on the main question of the day- who would be next to wear the famous No. 13 Jersey?

Monivea U13s Racing400Over past 20 years, as Irish International Rugby progressed to a new professional standard, Ireland has enjoyed great success earning an international reputation as champions and as we continue to compete and win against countries with populations in multiples that of Ireland and where Rugby is more entrenched in their cultural and sporting tradition, the question for Irish Rugby is if we as a nation can sustain our winning performance into the future? Will one day an ‘ All-Green’ team of rugby elites wash way the elite status of the ‘All-Blacks’ of New Zealand?

The short-term answers to this question may be readily answered by looking to the provinces however, for the longer term, one needs to take a closer look at the local clubs who develop and supply their players.

There is no doubt that the recession since 2008 has impacted on the clubs who have seen many of their most talented up & coming players immigrate to find work abroad and combined with competition from other sports, what has become obvious to some local clubs determined to build a strong pipeline of young talent in future years is that they must introduce the sport to much younger players as far back as secondary and even primary school!

One such local club in County Galway, Monivea Rugby football club who recently celebrated their 40th Anniversary since its foundation has made tremendous in-roads into developing the game of rugby among the local youth with Saturday morning training sessions ranging from under-5 years and up.

Watching the club over the years, one of the keys to retaining their young players is making it ‘real’ for the young players, not only in teaching core skills and building fitness but also helping them to visualise long-term success goals in the sport where competition is so high.

Observing the U-13 players only as an example, a team of 24 players who train so diligently twice per week through winter months (many who will continue to build on their fitness with GAA sports for the summer months) under their dedicated (volunteer) coaches, these players have already, believe it or not, played in 3 international tours, France (2012), Wales 2013 (Welsh and Portuguese teams) and they have just recently just returned from Paris again (2014) having spent a weekend under the wing of the legendary French club Racing-Metro!

Leveraging it ‘s impressively close and warm friendship with the professional French club, the U-13 players of Monivea RFC (along with their lucky parents) were welcomed in April as royalty at the French Club, training grounds and youth Academy at Le Plessis Robinson by the club management and wait-for-it, Ireland rugby heroes Johnny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara who generously gave so much time out from their busy schedules to meet with the U-13 players for photos and autographs (post the very lengthy photo-shoots mainly with the female parents of the group).

While there, the U-13 players and their parents were given a tour of the mind-blowingly high-tech training facilities of this professional team and ample time to train themselves on Racing-Metro in-door training grounds where a highly skillful tackle by one U-13 player left his coach, a retired semi-professional Racing-Metro and International France Player largely incapacitated for the remainder of the tour!

Monivea U13s 2Racing400On Saturday Morning, the U-13 players fielded two competitive challenges where they played like warriors against the under 14/15 Racing-Metro Academy players, losing 33- 7 in a game which the score did not reflect their gallant efforts.  Their second game in their own age group  U-13, was a fascinating game for both teams supporters, and the standard of the opposition was excellent, but Monivea narrowly behind at half time came out in the second half and played with such intensity and passion matched by skill and technique, went on to win 25-18. A fantastic win against a French side, which had a number of players in the Racing Metro underage Academy .Despite the Anglo-Franco language diversity, camaraderie, respect and friendship developed so quickly and naturally among these young players. Post match, one would never forget the hand shakes/high fives and hugs these young players gave to each other!  To develop young players and bring them to the standard required, and also keeping the interest in the game, at a time where in all sports, this age group is dropping out of sport, Monivea RFC are endeavoring to give their young talented players every opportunity to succeed.

Looking at the photo of these young players, one would have to look 10 years down the road to wonder which of these players will compete against each other at international level (this picture is differently one for the scrap book to be pulled out at future Ireland/France games post 2020). The Monivea team.

Desmond Mahon, Ben Ryan, Jack Noone, Jack Barrett, Andre Duffy, Ronan Coen, Jack Mannion, Dean Reilly, Sean Farragher, Fabian Mangan, Luke Geraghty, Eoghan McCabe, Darragh Newell, Sean Gilmore, Darragh Berthoz, Patrick Cannon, Stephen Donoghue , Flanain Varden-Kenny, Connor McAlwee, Darragh O Sullivan, Killeen Berthoz, Naoise OLoughlin ,Jack Flattery, Darren Greaney.

Before returning for home, the U-13 players of Monivea RFC for those of you did not watch it on Setanta Ireland, these proud young lads had the honour of leading the players of Racing –Metro onto the field in a guard of honor wearing Monivea colours and with a result of 23/16 in favor of Racing-Metro, against Biarritz( who will next year be coached by ex Monivea and Ireland coach Eddie O Sullivan)  Johnny Sexton could only thank the thunderous chorus of the fields of Athenry so far from home lifting the roof off the stadium that wonderful night. Yes the Monivea lads support was a major contributor to their success!……. and this trip and others like it to clubs big and small, at home or away will only contribute to the development and increase in standards to rugby in  Monivea, Connaught and Ireland. Yes it starts at club level.image002



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