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'We haven’t come this far to only come this far' - MU Barnhall on the rise

The Kildare club won 18 games from 18 on their way to the AIL Division 2B title this season.

IT WAS NO surprise that MU Barnhall featured prominently in the All-Ireland League Awards last week, with Adrian Flavin named AIL Coach of the Year after guiding the club to promotion from Division 2B with a stunning 18 wins from 18 games.

Second row Brendan McSorley, an Ireland Students international, also picked up the Division 2B Rising Star award after a superb season for Barnhall.

It’s been a remarkable campaign for the Kildare club in what is their 50th anniversary year.

Source: Irish Rugby TV/YouTube

Among the other highlights have been the Ladies team winning promotion from Division 3 of the Leinster League, the men’s Seconds team scooping the Metro Plate, the U20s side having another fine season, and the Buffaloes - a tag team for adults with special needs – heading on a trip to Rome.

The 2B title earned by the men’s senior team is the first All-Ireland trophy in the club’s history, with Barnhall having earned senior status in 1999.

18 wins from 18 was a special achievement and Flavin – a former London Irish, Connacht and Ireland A hooker – says it came down to the consistency of the effort the players delivered.

“We had clarity – we knew what we wanted to achieve and how we wanted to achieve it,” says Flavin. “What was good was that it came from the players. They actually sat down last July and said they wanted to win the league.

“It came down to the application and commitment of the players, to be honest.”

Flavin and his fellow coaches pushed the players in “a challenging environment.” He cites putting the players through a hit of fitness two days before their 18th league game against Rainey Old Boys as an example.

“Some of the lads were thinking, ‘We’ve already won the league, why are we doing this?’ It was to ensure that our standards stayed there for the whole season.”

The standards rarely dipped as Barnhall notched 12 try-scoring bonus points along the way, scoring the most points in the league and conceding the fewest. 

The MU – Maynooth University – part of the club’s name is a key element in the success. They first partnered in 2005 to start a rugby scholarship programme that would benefit both parties, with the rename following in 2010.

Joe Schmidt presents the AIL Coach of the Year award to Adrian Flavin (MU Barnhall RFC) Adrian Flavin was named AIL Coach of the Year. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Several of the AIL team are students in Maynooth and lend a youthful edge to the side, something that’s important to a club focused on developing homegrown players.

“The vast majority have been through the minis and are in the university or have gone through the university and remained at the club,” says Flavin, who is also the director of rugby at Castleknock College in Dublin.

“There’s a huge emotional buy-in from the homegrown players.”

Barnhall used five U20 players across the AIL season, with 19-year-old second row Dan Murphy an ever-present in the starting XV.

“We’re not afraid to give lads an opportunity should it arise or should they deserve it. It’s one of the attractions to the new Barnhall programme, that lads know they’re going to get a chance.”

The AIL team train at Barnhall’s grounds in Leixlip on Tuesdays before heading for Maynooth Unversity on Thursdays to spare the students the drive.

“Some of them are still late for training sessions at the university when they live on campus, which is quite impressive!” says Flavin with a laugh.

But equally important as the young talent is the experience of the likes of captain and number eight Tom McKeown, a Barnhall legend who is on a streak of more than 130 consecutive AIL appearances for the club, and who works as the rugby development officer in Maynooth University.

“He’s a real club man,” says Flavin. “I presume that over the years clubs tried to entice him up the league, but I was delighted for people like him that they achieved what they achieved this year.

“Tom leads from the front, he sets standards on and off the pitch. Tom is Mr Barnhall, to be honest. He’s definitely one of those guys who’s going to end up in the bar in a club blazer in 30 years’ time telling people what they’re doing wrong!”

Joe Schmidt presents the AIL Div2b Rising Star Award to Brendan McSorley (MU Barnhall RFC) Brendan McSorley was Rising Star of Division 2B. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ex-Leinster back Darren Hudson, a student in MU, has been an important figure too, while others like former Leinster underage players Eoghan Quinn and Michael Mellett have provided nous.

MU Barnhall can now look towards Division 2A rugby and Flavin is hopeful his players return from their summer break with big ambitions.

“We’ve told the lads, ‘We haven’t come this far to only come this far.’

“The main thing is that we have consistency and that same clarity in how we want to play, what’s required of the players to achieve that. We do like to keep the ball alive, play rugby and see people trying things. We encourage the lads to have a crack.”

But first, the club will mark their 50th-anniversary celebrations in style with a ball on 22 June. Liam Toland will MC, with Joe Schmidt and Trevor Brennan – “the king of Barnhall” – guest speakers on the night.

It was always likely to be a huge year for Barnhall and Flavin is happy he and his team kept up their side of the bargain.

“I remember sitting in the president Eddie Fitzgerald’s front room about 12 months ago and we had just been beaten in the play-off semi-finals by Rainey.

“Eddie was a founding member of the club 50 years ago, a real legend, and he said, ‘I’m president, Sam Cawley – another Barnhall legend – is director of rugby and Tom McKeown is captain and it’s our 50th anniversary…’

“I just went, ‘No pressure there then!’ But thankfully we managed to do it.”

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