It was probably a step too far for our senior 7's to expect them to make an impact on the All Ireland sevens held in Athlone last weekend given it was our first experience at this level. Already crowned Munster champions after a somewhat hasty and rushed preparation, we went to Athlone a bit more organised and, with no shortage of optimism. It was though, like walking into a completely different sphere of the sevens game with experienced sides lining out at the midlands venue and in truth we found the going a little tough at times. There was no doubting the effort that the lads put into the competition, but the standard was at a completely different level to what we experienced at provincial level.
We began with a rousing display against Old Wesley and we certainly came close in that game. We scored two early tries and we were playing quite well, but the Dubliner's craft and skill at the shortened game became evident as the second half in particular progressed. We ended up losing by just two points, 28-26 and even at that early stage progression to the knockout stages became a monumental task.
A much more comprehensive defeat at the hands of Malone in the second game by 26-12 certainly put our aspirations in perspective and then it was down to playing for fun and pride.
With the shackles of expectations now released the lads could play with a certain abandonment and it showed in our third game against host club Buccaneers. It ended up with what was our only victory of the day by 28-22 and in a great first half; we lead by 21-nil. Perhaps it was the excursions of that period that saw Buccs claw back to such an extent that they actually led by 22-21 heading into the closing stages. It was a remarkable turnaround, but our lads gave it one last blast and managed another try to clinch the morale-boasting win.
With a tough day already behind them and with nothing to play for our final game against Trinity was another bleak experience from our perspective. The eventual winners and defending champions just had far more in their armoury and knew the intricacies of the seven's game inside out. We had little chance really and the students managed a six-try victory.
It would be hard to say that the lads weren't disappointed, but they were satisfied that they played a part in the All Ireland series. It was very much an added bonus for the club to have the Munster sevens champions this season and the experience has certainly whetted the appetite of many of the lads for more of the same. The 15-man game is our bread and butter and that will always be the primary focus, but with interest apparently expanding at a huge rate in the 7's game, we may extend our ambitions in the shortened game across the club in the coming years. We certainly have the players to shine, evident in the selection of Richie Mullane and James Murphy on a Munster development 7's side for a Scottish tournament this weekend.
We must give enormous credit for the instigator of our seven's exploits in the past few weeks, Alan Bennie who showed his typical enthusiasm and exuberance in getting the players on board. Eoin Cahill rowed in with equal aplomb and marshalled the troops from the sideline and then we have the bandwagon brigade who jumped on board once the journey had a potential Amsterdam trip as a prize. We won't mention them by name, but the original magnificent 7 know who they were.... Ah, now, that was a little unfair I suppose, but with all joking aside, well done to all the lads and the backup boys for representing Shannon, once again with tremendous pride.
Friday night saw the club honour our U/19 Shannon/St Marys All Ireland winners with a great night in the clubhouse. Parents, friends and club officials from both clubs gathered for the meal and presentations, which were awarded to various members of the squad and those that represented Munster and Ireland over the last few years.
The large U/19 squad included the AIL and open cup winners which ensured that the talent within the room was absolutely gargantuan. The paths of all these young players are paved with enormous potential and it's now a question as to how, as a club we can harness it, and ensure the immediate future of our club remains in safe hands.
We also had a presentation to perhaps the worthiest of recipients, the people that were the backbone of everything that this squad has achieved in the last few years. We've extolled the virtues of both Brendan and Barry McNamara throughout the season and although reward enough for them was seeing their charges succeed, we felt a memento of what they had achieved would be appropriate. Both we presented with mere tokens of what they have done for this group of young men and their clubs, but they were tokens given in extreme gratitude and immense pride.
The nomination Coaches player of the year brought heated discussion between father and son, so much so that they wisely decided that family unity was best served by having each of their choices rewarded. Therefore, we had both Alex McNamara and Eoin McCabe receive presentations. Clubman of the year went to a player who displayed extraordinary character throughout the season, whilst not always getting the rewards. Scott Cusack stood as an example of a consummate clubman and was richly deserving of his award. The big award was Players player of the year and this brought almost a unanimous nomination from the squad. The selection of Craig McCallum by his peers demonstrated clearly that the St Marys/Shannon divide in this squad is non-existent and this hugely talented Saints man has served his team in exemplary fashion over the year.
A great night for a great team and huge credit must once again go to Marie Ryan and the bar and Kitchen staff that serve us so well throughout the season. We are very fortunate to have such a committed person at our behest as Marie, and on behalf of all the players and members who have benefitted from her professional nature; we thank her and her staff most sincerely for their contribution to the season.
How can we summarise the season just past? Well I suppose we do so with a mixture of emotions. The highlight no doubt was the U/19's , but we also had much more to celebrate, particularly from our magnificent underage section which brings such joy , pleasure and pride to our club. The dedicated coaches, too numerous to mention individually, under the tutelage of Richie Ryan are the spine of our club and it's through their commitment and dedication that has our club on a sound footing going forward. Richie has just concluded his first season in the role of underage chairman and has taken the reigns full on. He exudes positivity and is an enormous asset to our club. His efforts along with everyone involved in underage should be cherished and greeted with gratitude from each one of our members and parents.
Our women's and girls'sides have flourished with Enfys Davies and Gerry Lawler leading their respective teams of coaches and managers. Undeservedly, our female section is often regarded in a lesser light than they should be. That is something we should all try to rectify. They too represent our club with equal pride and commitment with each and every one of the participants, proud that they wear the Shannon Jersey. The senior side had a good year with some significant victories, but more importantly have continued a steady curve of improvement. One person must be mentioned individually and that is Katie McCloskey. She stands out as a leader both on and off the pitch, and her drive and enthusiasm for the entire club leaves me in no doubt that she is one of our most valued members throughout the club. As it is across the club, the actions and contribution of individuals may not be seen by others, but it's probably far more valuable than what can be seen.
Our thirds and seconds had a mixed season. As usual, the 2nds are probably the hardest group in the club to look after. The very nature of seconds means that an established side is more a dream than a reality with players coming in and out on a regular basis. Eoin Cahill through his weight in behind them and then we had Decie O'Connor selflessly come out of his self imposed retirement to lend his considerable knowledge to the set up. However, it would be remiss not to mention the shear dedication of a constant for the seconds who was relentless in his commitment to the team, Martin Power. Again, Martin's work went unseen by many, but while a lot of us were out and about celebrating or drowning our sorrows after an AIL game, he was on the phone or text ensuring the availability of players for the seconds the following day. The very fibre of our club is held together by men like Martin and his ilk, and we are always indebted to them.
The thirds continue to do what they do best, play serious rugby, but have plenty of fun along the way. It's almost an autonomous team these days with a camaraderie that many other teams envy. Players like Ger Ryan and Fergie Curtin continue to be the backbone and show a tremendous dedication, along with others to the cause of the thirds. Ken Kiely and Danny Keehan patrol the sidelines and at the start of the year, we had Tomas Caulfield, again great servants to the club.
The 21's suffered greatly from the draw of the seniors, which in itself is a commendable outcome. The very long list of those regularly on the senior panel meant that Hicks and Frankie had to work from a depilated, but talented squad. The fruits of their labours were evident in the high quality of players that made the leap up the chain and served the senior side so well, and will continue to do so. The U/21's continue to be one of the most important teams in the club and with the wealth of talent coming through from underage they will continue in the role as mould makers for the senior ranks.
Senior level was a roller coaster of a ride to say the least, but thankfully we came through in the end the youthful squad will be all the better for the rigours of the campaign next year. We've already reflected on the seniors and those that have worked so hard on and off the field. We look ahead with great enthusiasm to what's around the corner.
The club runs on the basis of people, and it's the people that give so much that are deserving of the most praise. The scenes of joy or dismay on the field are matched in equal measure by a hard and dedicated group of people who work almost tirelessly ensuring our club can maintain our status not only in division 1 A , but our status as a premier club throughout the grades. It gets harder and harder each year as financial worries are exacerbated, playing resources' diminishing and indeed the very people needed to keep the whole thing going also waning. Our executive Committee is elected to manage the affairs of the club by our members and it's a task that becomes increasingly difficult. Many outside the committee may disagree with decisions that are made, but I can honestly say that every one of those decisions is made with what is perceived to be the best interests of the club at their core. We are a democratic club and voices of disagreement are welcome, but not in the hushed corners of pubs or other such environments where negative dissent can fester and be detrimental to our clubs well being. I would say to anyone with an opinion as to the direction our club should take, to get involved in some way, big or small and use your thoughts and reflections to strengthen our club.
On the committee, we say goodbye to our Asst, Treasurer Tom Caulfield whose diligence and knowledge has helped steer our finances in difficult times. Most don't get to see the work of such men, but it's as vital to Shannon, as a match-winning try on the pitch. We thank Tom most sincerely for his work, but we are comforted that he will continue with wise and welcome council from the backbenches so to speak.
To all or other executive members, on behalf of the members we thank ye for the work that becomes less and less glamorous as the years progress.
A final reminder that the official conclusion of the season takes place next Wednesday evening at our AGM, which takes place at 8pm in the clubhouse.
So that's it for another year of club notes and for me, it's the end of writing 10 years of weekly notes, match reports and other such matters. The decision to relinquish the role of PRO was made with long and very careful consideration but it's one that at the moment anyway, I have no regrets in making.
10 years has seen an awful lot happen in our club and for me personally. Highs and lows are part and parcel of any tenure, and thankfully, the highs far ascend the lows. It's hard to imagine any club official in another club experience what I have in those years. The years have wandered and meandered in a myriad of emotional and sometimes poignant occasions. Births, deaths, marriages, victories, defeats, internal upheaval, external grievances and just the simplicity of being part of Shannon RFC all merge to make my term as PRO, a time of unforgettable memories with experiences that I will be eternally grateful for. Some of those experiences though, are ones, which I would rather not have occurred. The events that have made the memories are just too many to mention, but the constant in every experience is the people of our club and the great many friends that I have made both near and far.
I count myself to be very fortunate to have been involved with the club at a time we added five more All Ireland league titles, an All Ireland cup and a clatter of senior cups. At one stage the All Ireland trophy was an almost constant presence in the house , sometimes acting as an expensive fruit bowl, which all led to almost taking winning it for granted. It is though, as we have recently seen very difficult to be at the top of the pile all the time.
However, I have to say that any Shannon team winning gave me as much pleasure and enjoyment as when our seniors lifted the blue riband competitions. Across the club, I've seen probably more than my share of rugby games, often managing four of five over a weekend and I'd like to think that I gave all the sides throughout the club their share of glory when the need arose. I've always tried to give a reasonably frank and forthright account of games and happenings when reporting, something which didn't always sit well in and around the club. Honesty, however, amongst ourselves, and the honesty we portray to others has been one of the staples that has seen our club grow from our humble beginnings in 1884 to what we have become, a giant in Irish rugby. We may not be at the top at this present moment in time, but we'll get back there again.
Anything I have done, and will do for Shannon is carried out with 100% of my heart and soul, and that in itself, paradoxically, is one of the reasons I depart. The commitment of this role has become too time consuming to suit my circumstances. Even as I write, one of those grounds that I relinquish the role is an enormous distraction on my choice of office, namely the bed, and distracts the train of thought by climbing over the computer and demonstrating an exuberance that will serve the club well when his time to play comes in a few years time. 3 year old boys are great levellers, and couple that to a 7 year olds burgeoning rugby career than, decision becomes a little clearer.
The season past has been without doubt the most time consuming ever(if it ever could get busier) The new website , facebook and Twitter are like voracious entities that feed on a one's time and before you know it 1, 2,3 or 4 hours of you day has become consigned to history. Social media is now the big thing and although it did take up time, I'm glad that we entered into the whole social networking. I'm proud to say that we reached 1000 followers on Twitter and can now boast almost 1300 facebook fans. Now for those who haven't a clue what that means, ask the kids or grandkids. I must thank Eoin Naughton for his generosity in allowing us to take over a facebook page that he created.
The new website has been a triumph and I once again thank Des O'Dea for his ongoing help in its maintenance.
The media, and in particular those individuals locally who have tried hard to keep the club game in the public eye, I express my gratitude.
To thank everyone individually that has helped me over 10 years would be to insult someone that I inadvertently leave out, so to all those that have made my job that bit easier I most sincerely thank ye.
It has been of enormous pride to me that I sat on the executive committee of our club for 10 years and been part of decisions that have moulded the future of the club. The headaches and trauma at times has been difficult, but that goes with the territory.
I've had my fair share of moments of pride and honour in my time, and to merit each in preference may take a long time, but without doubt my proudest moment is not an AIL win, but watching my own son wear the black and blue jersey that has meant so much to me since I was 11 years of age in the fields of Coonagh and beyond. Little things; it's always the little things.
My involvement, in some capacity will continue, (ye won't get rid of me that easily) but it will less arduous role away from the front line; not for a year or two anyway.
I'll conclude my ramblings,(although I could go on) , with a note of eternal gratitude to my long suffering Wife , Eveleen who has shown a patience that the saints in heaven would be envious of. The back of my head, stuck in a computer has been the usual conversational posture over the years, and who knows, it may turn out to be my best side yet. The relinquishing of family time so I could go to thirds friendly or a u/13 match, or both has been commonplace and it takes someone with a certain degree of tolerance to allow that to happen. Shannon RFC are in debt to her and others like her.
So that's it. I bid you adieu with my club philosophy that will stand the test of time forever, "Shannon you are my pride, my only hope and glory"