23 May, 16:14
A Munster Under 17 combined selection of players from the Regional Development Squad and Munster 'B' Schools recently attended a 11 a-side blitz at Cork Institute of Technology grounds.
It raised many eyebrows mainly because Bruff were only promoted to senior ranks just seven years ago and had a huge hurdle to overcome in their first final facing the might of 37 time cup winners Garryowen FC. Less than 48 hours before lifting the grand old trophy of Munster rugby, the Bruff club celebrated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the club.
What has been achieved in the intervening decades is meteoric and phenomenal. Constant questions are being asked as to how a club based in rural heartland can produce a side that can compete shoulder to shoulder with the country’s very best.
Good organisation, good facilities and an already legendary underage structure are reasons advanced to those who are seeking answers and seeking to emulate the Bruff model. But another ingredient very central to one of Irish rugby’s finest story is the sense of family that pervades the club. There are fewer sporting organisations where the membership is closer knit than at Kilballyowen Park.
The club was founded all those years ago by two men that were eligible to play Under 20 rugby at the time, Willie Conway and Nicholas Cooke, and happily they were in Thomond Park wearing well deserved broad grins when the final whistle in this year’s Munster Senior Cup final was blown and mighty Garryowen had been conquered.
Bruff nominated a match day squad of 22 to face Garryowen. Of that squad 19 had come through the club’s underage structure, many had been together since starting out at Under 8 level and have stayed together like one big family. Some of the squad would have tasted success at Community Games level, others at All-Ireland Under 16, Under 18 and Under 20 rugby before making the transition to adult rugby.
That is not to say that others are not welcome as those who did not come through the club’s underage structure will quickly testify. Andrew Cashman arrived from Mallow three years ago, Tom’ O’Callaghan came from Mitchelstown two years ago while David Horan, younger brother of Munster and Ireland prop Marcus, joined the club on completion of his studies at St. Munchin’s College. All three quickly embraced the club’s ethos and are now an integral part of the Bruff rugby family. Another bonding factor for the Cup winning squad is that as many as 12 of the players had attended and played rugby at St. Munchin’s College.
Head coach Eoin Cahill and assistant coach Peter Malone transferred to Shannon and Garryowen respectively at a time when Bruff were competing at junior level. Now the experience that they garnered in the years away is being put to very good use as they mastermind the club’s relentless progress up the rugby ladder. Alf Laffan saw service with U.C.C and Shannon while Brian Morrissey had a year at U.L./Bohemians before in typical Bruff tradition, both returned home.
However one family more than any epitomise what Bruff is all about. Michael Cahill is one of the most popular rugby figures in the Province. His dedication to the underage game is without parallel and almost without exception, the current squad would have been under his tutelage and knowing and watchful eye at various times in their careers. Then of course there are his three sons and what a contribution they have made to the Bruff success story. All three played in the Cup final, the team’s head coach Eoin formed a very formidable centre partnership with his brother Brian. The latter is the team’s kicker and chipped in with 13 points in the final. The third brother Tony manned the pivotal outhalf berth and such were his exploits on the big day, he walked off with the Man of the Match accolade. That is not all the family’s involvement, the women folk are equally as immersed in the running of the club. Mother Lil and sisters Fiona and Breda are important members of the club’s Ladies Committee that provide all the in house catering for visiting teams to Kilballyowen Park.
The Carroll family are another that is involved in different aspects of the club. The late Brendan Carroll was an outstanding player in the early years as well as serving as the club’s Treasurer. His four sons all play with the club, Michael and John (now like his father the club Treasurer) featured on the Cup final squad. Mother Lena combines the role of club Vice-President with that of being a leading member of the Ladies Club. Cousin John Shine has been a regular on the senior side since promotion.
Gearoid Ryan is the squad’s longest serving player. A native of Sixmilebridge, he has bypassed all the Limerick clubs since he joined Bruff as a raw Under 10. He is the common denominator to the club’s string of successes over the last decade that has seen Bruff seamlessly rise from the bowels of junior ranks to Division 1B of the All-Ireland League.
Peter Malone and his brothers John and Simon all played for the club at top level while father, Ger served a term as club President and is the club’s Munster Branch delegate.
Present club captain, Cathal O’Regan has been inspirational in that role. He has led the club to promotion from Division Three, to a first Limerick Charity Cup success and now the big prize, the Munster Senior Cup.
The Deady family from Bruree are among many other families that have made a huge contribution. Brendan a former Schools star with St. Munchin's College has starred at full back in the club's great triumphs in recent years. His brothers Stephen and Ronan also played with the club while father P.J. has been a constant presence behind the scenes.
Another constant in the club for longer that would care to remember is Miceal Leahy. The Kilmallock man played with the club for many years before making the transition into management. He has managed the first team through a number of promotions and through the Charity Cup and now the Munster Cup successes.
John Hayes, Ireland’s most capped forward is synonymous with the club. He commenced his illustrious playing career with Bruff before moving on to Shannon. He transferred his allegiance back when the Kilballyowen Park club attained senior status.
The family ethos is central to the Bruff success story and it has helped see the club scale some dizzy heights. Bruff rugby club is now one of the focal points of south east Limerick. The club has enjoyed tremendous success since its foundation four decades ago. While the team has developed on the field, the development of the club off the field has kept pace. The club has three full pitches, two of which are floodlit, one to match standard. A large clubhouse with a warm and welcoming ambience is a central feature of Kilballyowen Park. The club has its own fitness area, six changing rooms, a medical room and a referee’s room. The latest addition to the facility is a newly developed nature walkway around the perimeter of the grounds which like all the other facilities is available to the public and the community.
Bruff rugby club is a paragon of what can be achieved through foresight, careful planning and good organisation. The heartbeat of Munster rugby may be on the move from the urban sprawl to the rich rolling plains of rural Ireland.
Bruff's captain Cathal O'Regan breaks away from the Garryowen defence.
Bruff RFC: Winners of the ODM Financial Munster Senior Cup Season 2010/11