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'It's not 15 guys who will get us to the AIL, it's going to be 100'

Junior club Coolmine RFC have big plans to achieve senior status by 2025.

Leinster's Vakh Abdaladze came through Coolmine RFC.
Leinster's Vakh Abdaladze came through Coolmine RFC.

IT’S BEEN A problem for most rugby clubs around the country for many years now – getting players from their youth teams all the way through onto their senior side.

Coolmine RFC, a junior club based in Dublin, are looking to change that trend at their Ashbrook grounds as part of their ‘Drive to ’25′ initiative, which essentially aims to see the club promoted into the All-Ireland League by 2025.

A core part of the plan is helping to bridge the gap from the youth teams – the club has 700 players across their minis and youths – into the senior side of the club and to do so, they’ve launched a new Under-23 team ahead of next season.

Within the first 10 days of announcing the U23 team, Coolmine had 30 players signed up. The U23s will play Friday night matches in the Metro League and the club is hopeful this new team will prevent the drop-off of players after U20 level.

“Part of the challenge has been that you come through with all your mates in underage teams and then you jump up to the senior team when you’re 20 and some guys in that squad could nearly be your Da,” says Donal Garrihy, who is part of the ‘Drive to ’25′ campaign in Coolmine.

Ollie Prunty, the club’s director of rugby, has been enthused by the reaction of players to the U23 Metro team.

“These lads have gone from not being engaged at all to fully committed, pre-season in their minds and working hard already,” he says.

Coolmine have planning permission for a new state-of-the-art gym on their grounds, a modern 30m by 8m shed that will house all the equipment players across the club’s teams need for their athletic development.

They hope to attract players to the club after they leave school – another key time of drop-off in rugby. Indeed, many former Coolmine minis players go off to rugby-playing schools but then never return afterwards, with some of them opting to join senior clubs. Again, Coolmine are keen to reverse the trend.

Pau-bound Ireland underage international Matt Grogan started at Coolmine – he was coaching their U17s until recently – while Connacht centre Tom Farrell and Leinster out-half David Hawkshaw did too, before departing to rugby-playing schools.

Coolmine Coolmine's grounds at Ashbrook.

Leinster tighthead prop Vakh Abdaladze stayed and played his underage rugby with Coolmine before winning Ireland Youths caps and then having to move to Clontarf as he went on into the Leinster academy.

“Someone like Vakh can’t play their club rugby here because you have to play for a senior club. If we have an outstanding young player, they have to go to Clontarf or Belvo or Lansdowne if they get into the academy.

“With the ‘Drive to ’25,’ we want a guy like that to be able to play his club rugby here and still be part of the academy.”

But not every rugby player is bound for a professional career and those players are just as important in Coolmine’s plans. They want every single former minis or youths player to return after their school days.

“In Munster, there’s always a tie to your club,” says Prunty. “Once you’re a Cookie, you’re always a Cookie. That’s different in Leinster for whatever reason.

“We all know the fallout from schools but rugby has so much to offer. Your mates, amazing wins, nights out, trips – there is much more to the sport than just being a professional rugby player.”

Ex-Leinster, London Irish, and Ireland A hooker Brian Blaney is coaching the club’s U20 and U15 teams while also working with coaches of all the other youths teams to ensure cohesion in their coaching philosophy.

The club believes coaches of his quality will attract players back and possibly ensure that some in the future will opt to stay playing with Coolmine rugby rather than going into the schools game.

“The 20s have got a huge amount from Brian,” says Prunty, who plays for the senior first team alongside his role as director of rugby.

brian-blaney Former Leinster hooker Brian Blaney is a key influence in the club. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It was the same when Bernard Jackman coached here for two years. The engagement he had with the players… no matter what he said, players listened. Young guys know Brian played with Leinster and they lap up what he has to tell them.”

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Blaney’s brother, Dermot, has also just come in as the U23 team’s head coach, only adding to the cohesion that Coolmine are aiming for.

That extends right down to a collective style of play across the teams in the club.

“You might have had the situation where coaching would be inconsistent any time you jumped up an age grade,” says Garrihy. 

“We’re trying to create a situation where all the coaches report into Brian so we’re cohesive, and he reports to myself and Ollie. We’re going to do development days with the coaches. Even things like having similar calls across the teams helps everyone be on the same page.” 

There are also plans in place to launch a scholarship programme with a third-level university in Dublin, helping to attract more high-calibre players.

The U20s, U23s and two senior men’s teams will all train at the same time on Tuesdays and Thursdays next season whenever Covid-19 restrictions allow, helping to create the familiarity amongst players and coaches that Coolmine are after.

They plan to invite minis and youths teams down to the club for free pizza on Friday nights when the U23s are playing to ensure their younger members are engaged with older teams.

Garrihy and Prunty see huge potential for growth given the “monstrous” catchment area of Dublin 15 and Dublin 7, and after a very tough time for club rugby, they want to get down to business as the pandemic hopefully continues to ease.

“It’s all clear in our heads and we have to deliver it all now,” says Prunty. “We’re going to get everyone on one track and working in the same direction.

“It’s not 15 guys who will get us to the AIL, it’s going to be 100 who get us there.”

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