If you were a kid first brought to Coonagh in the mid-1990s, you might have thought that Shannon owned the AIL and carried the trophy across the country just to brag about it.
Our back-to-back titles when it was the only show in town would evoke that kind of certainty. And as you fight your way up through the ranks of minis and youngsters, five more pennants hang from the walls of the clubhouse in Thomond Park. What could possibly go wrong?
However, clubs are moody and volatile environments. Not just rugby clubs. Any sports community can change direction for the worse far more easily than for the better.
Regardless of the quality of the team on the field at any given point, it’s just a matter of a few key, hard-working folks needing to step down from their roles on the coaching/admin front, and before you can find the pitchforks, you’re already deep in the manure business.
Shannon has had things to do in the years following her last AIL title, a bizarre overtime affair in 2009 against Clontarf, where the day ultimately decided who scored first.
By this point the league had become a pale imitation of its former selves, not only playing second fiddle to the professional game but in a very different theater to which Shannon was headed.
A few weeks ago, one of them confided that they wouldn’t start the journey to last weekend’s Division 1B semifinals game against Highfield with fear.
A couple of seasons ago, before Covid fell from the sky, Highfield had won 11 games out of 13, including a home win and an away loss in the Shannon game. The model farm road mob flew. The rugby map should be rewritten. Then everything stopped.
When it started again, the world was a different place. Reestablishing that kind of momentum – remember, clubs change as key people change – is on the same scale as chasing eternal youth. The AIL would be a better place if Highfield had continued their promotion to the top flight, but instead it’s Shannon who is now poised to make a big comeback. Given their years in the wild, they feel like they’ve served their time.
Naas stand between them and the top flight. Like Highfield before them, Naas coming into Division 1A would have many positive implications. Given what they went through against Old Wesley at Donnybrook last Saturday, they might think this is their season. It was epic stuff, complemented by orgasmic commentary from wingman and former referee Alan Lewis.
Wesley finished the regular season with a 10-point lead. This earned them nothing more than a home tie in the semifinals, where Naas came from fourth in the league table after losing seven games en route to the knockout rounds, in contrast to Wesley’s two losses. And yes, you know what happened next.
Exciting contest depended on a touchline conversion which, if successful, would have capped a comeback from Wesley, three points down. As things got a long way, the Naas boys looked unsure if they should even celebrate.
“To be honest, I was oddly disappointed in Morgan,” said Naas coach Johne Murphy, summing up his feelings for his opponent Morgan Lennon. “They were the best team in our league and proved that during the season. You see, we put in a good performance that day and got a bit lucky in key moments. But we are happy.”
When you combine the current rugby profile of Newbridge College and Naas Rugby Club in a well populated area then you have the makings of something special.
“The club itself tried to be what it was supposed to be: a community club,” says Murphy. “A lot of people have helped with a few things off the field and it has been worth the effort. There’s a real acceptance and desire to deliver what we want for our community.”
One of the silver linings of the Covid cloud was the appreciation of the connection between club and community. Like most relationships, it can be complex. Those serious about making it work are spending time and effort trying to figure out what exactly the club’s role should be. Then they sometimes make painful decisions to join the dots.
One gets the impression that Murphy’s journey with Naas hasn’t been easy. The reward for his efforts will be measured in part by the number of Kildare registered cars heading to Coonagh on Saturday.
Ultimately, it is – or should be – judged not only by whether or not the club plays its rugby in Division 1A, but also by where the club sits in the hearts and minds of the people of that region. Of course he can’t control all the moving parts, but sure he can design the mission.
With Shannon, however, there is a more urgent need for deliverance. It has only been three years since they were in Division 1A but they ended in tears and bitterness after a season befitting their recent profile as a club that is rapidly changing and trying to catch up.
They now rely on a corps of players who started their rugby life in Coonagh. They will remember growing up with great expectations. We’ll see soon enough if it’s baggage to slow them down, or something else entirely.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/shannon-in-full-flow-over-promotion-prospects-while-naas-want-to-bypass-history-and-build-new-brand-41592677.html Shannon is in full swing about opportunities for advancement, while Naas wants to sidestep the story and build a new brand