Today’s youth rugby system is dominated by the Leinster Schools Senior Cup, a competition that asks young players to put their lives on hold, and commit every day of the week, all year round, to chasing the dream of silverware. The large schools including Blackrock College and Belvedere College dominate the system, and senior clubs such as Lansdowne, St Marys and Terenure RFC are going from strength to strength in their respective club systems.
However, amongst the various Schools and Senior Clubs across the province, lies a youth team who are trying to make a difference to the lives of young people. In the small Junior Club that is Coolmine RFC in Dublin 15, we found a group of coaches and parents taking a holistic approach to developing their players. The Coolmine U18s team, led by Head Coach Joe Walsh, is aiming to have a positive long term effect on the future of their young players.
“For me, it’s about putting the development of the person first, and developing the player second”, said Coach Walsh. Walsh takes over as U18s Head Coach this year, after a successful season at U17s level as the team’s Performance Director, alongside long-standing U17s Head Coach Mick McDonough.
“Overall we’d be relatively happy with how we performed last season. We topped our league unbeaten and were beaten then in the Semi-Final. We made the Schools and Youths Cup Final, and won the Metro Cup”.
The group’s results are an amazing achievement, considering the immense competition posed to them in the form of multiple top-tier senior clubs.
Walsh explained his vision for this year’s U18s group,
“I think it’s important that we know what we’re trying to achieve. From a squad point of view, we would have a vision of being the go-to team for U18s rugby in North and West Dublin, and to provide an opportunity for young people to develop themselves through rugby, both on and off the field”.
The young coach went on to explain the importance of individual attention and inclusion for players at this age group,
“At U18s level, a lot of the players are either beginning their leaving cert journey, or are gearing up to start the exams. I’d consider rugby a brilliant outlet for young players to express themselves and have fun amongst the stress of the state exams”
Walsh himself has only just sat his own Leaving Certificate, and knows the pressure of the exams all too well,
“These exams put a lot of pressure on young lads to perform and show up on the big day, a lot like rugby! I’m hoping that I can give some mentoring and guidance to the guys on the exam end as well, to maybe take some pressure off, and serve as someone to go to when they need a hand, and not just with the playbook!”.
Walsh explains also how his main priority this year is to create a welcoming environment for players, parents, coaches and spectators alike,
“The culture of the group is so important. Creating a buzz of togetherness and unity in the team is something that can’t be bought. In my opinion, if we focus on getting the players into an environment where they feel at home and comfortable, then with hard work on the field, the results will follow”.
The team start their preparations for the 2018/19 Season at end of July, with everyone aligned on where the group is heading,
“We’re holding several meetings with players, coaches and parents, to make sure we provide the best season possible for these young men. At the end of the day, we will be judged on our results, and top-tier standard results are what we will strive for, but most important for us is to make sure the boys have a really enjoyable year.”
The push for excellence and achievement in the club comes from the foundation of a brand new U20s & U18s Elite setup. The U20s have brought in industry experts Ian Sherwin and Brian Blaney to provide high level professional coaching to the side, with a link-up planned between all levels of the club,
“What we’re seeing now is a plan to push the club forward like we’ve never seen before. We have great people at the wheel, including Sean Lee, John Cagney, Ciaran Troy, and not to mention the work being done by Mick and the other coaches to plan out the season. There’s a training link up planned between us and the 20s to bring some unity across both squads as well, which I think is great. The professional nature of the programme is having a great effect on the other teams as well, with both the Seniors and the Youth sides benefitting from the push for excellence in the club”.
He was quick to point out his goal for the progression of every player under his watch this year,
“In terms of the progression of the players, I want to develop the skillset and rugby knowledge of every player that comes onto the pitch. By the end of the season, I’d hope that every player feels that they have a more rounded and complete rugby ability than when they showed up on day one. I think it’s unacceptable to disregard any young player for having a lesser skillset than those around him, it’s our job as coaches to develop every single player that pulls on our crest”.
Walsh seems confident about the season ahead, and the team’s prospects in competition,
“Overall it’s shaping up to be a great season. Everyone is on board and everyone wants to win silverware. The players are all really looking forward to getting back training and hitting the ground running come the start of league in October. If we come together like we know we can and train well we’ll be right up there. Our Manager Anita Kelly is working around the clock to help me get things in line and I can’t thank her enough for all the time she’s put in!”.
The team and club alike are recruiting new players and members. You can reach joe at firstname.lastname@example.org to hear more.