Killarney's first rugby club was founded on 28th April, 1928 securing a playing pitch from the Earl of Kenmare at Countess Road. The club thrived for several years but war and emigration took their toll in around 1935 and the club became defunct until 1954 when it was re-established. The club progressed for many years up until 1972 when it was again disbanded. Killarney RFC was reformed in 1983 and has been ever present since then.
One of the barriers to successful growth that has plagued the club since inception has been the lack of a proper base. During the early eighties the club trained on land adjacent to the Killarney Ryan Hotel and that hotel kindly provided changing facilities. Matches were played at Deerpark on ground owned by a former member. The club then moved base to the Killarney Racecourse for several years before moving, in 1993, to its current base at Ballydribbeen, on lands owned by the Health Service Executive.
"Killarney are top of the pile in terms of the structures that are in place", said Liam McGuire, Club Development Chairman. "We're doing well in the J1 League and have over 200 age grade players training every Saturday. The negative is that our facilities are so appalling. At the moment we have three containers which constitutes our clubhouse and there are no shower or toilet facilities. There is only one pitch and a little training area but obviously with so many teams playing we are cutting it up and it becomes a mud bath very quickly."
The club officially became freehold owners of a site just outside the town in Aghadoe in May 2012. Full planning permission had been procured from Kerry County Council for the development of a sportsfield, changing rooms and ancillary facilities. The club began their development last summer with capital raised by the community who quickly formulated an 'all hands on deck' strategy driven by the Killarney locals.
"We had the most fabulous summer we've seen for a long time and simply couldn't wait around. An executive decision was made - in about two minutes - that we'd enlist the help of members of the community who provided us with tractors/trailers and anything else we could get our hands on to get the job started", said McGuire. "There was a lot of earth to be shifted followed by levelling and we put some amount of man hours in over ten weeks from July to September. About fifty locals in all volunteered their help from farmers to accountants, many of whom that had never been involved in the club before but were delighted to help out."
"Our plans are to have three pitches and a juvenile area. Because we didn't have a huge amount of confidence in our ability we decided not to start with the premier pitch in case it didn't work out as well as we would have liked, so we started with what we call the second pitch. We took a good bit of professional advice and while we couldn't financially do things exactly to the book in terms of the pitch construction we've taken the important elements of recommendations on board and put a good drainage system in and I think that we've ended up with a fairly good product."
With plans in place for Killarney's new facilities to be completed by the end of next summer McGuire says the club's main focus is to continue to raise funds to take on the next phase of the development. "The primary challenge is centered around our own fundraising which would sort out the facilities aspect of the new grounds" said McGuire. "We've plenty of people on board who can pull off the manual work so there is now the task of raising enough money to do so. We've spent €600k so far which includes the purchase of the land and the professional fees. We estimate a further €400k is required to get all the pitches finished and our dressing rooms built. The town has been so supportive of the venture in many ways and for that we are indebted to them. We have raised funds through auction for unwanted items, hosted a pig on the spit festival and held a fashion show to name but a few initiatives. We are also very grateful to Mick Flannery who has also supported us by kindly performing in a free concert with proceeds going towards our development."
"A further challenge for us is to convert our players from age grade to adult and more importantly to retain them" said McGuire. "Our objective is to keep young people in the game and continue to grow Killarney rugby club. We've got a good sprinkling of young talented players coming up through our youth section and have a couple of good guys coming out of the cadets also who we think will be good enough to make it on the Munster Under 18 Clubs side in a year or so. We have fantastic youth coordinators overseen by Tom Campbell and Fergus Cronin who are key to the continuous growth of youth rugby in Killarney."
"There is also a demand for women's rugby in Killarney and we would love to get it going. With our current lack of changing facilities we haven't a hope however when we are up and running in Aghadoe, with adequate dressing rooms, we will be taking girls and women's rugby development very seriously."
Long Term Objectives
Killarney RFC have also planned to take advantage of their magnificent surrounding and will set out to host future rugby tournaments once their new grounds have been completed. "We get many requests from overseas teams to come and play us. To that end we'd be saying to local businesses that if we can get our new club up and running there is a huge place for rugby tourism in Killarney", said Junior Finnegan, Club Chairperson. "We are looking at hosting a three tier festival - maybe over 35's adult and under 20's and ideally the more international participation the better. There have been many rugby events that have blossomed and grown over the years and we want to be part of it. If we put the word out that we plan on hosting a rugby event in Killarney we would be supported by the local businesses, hotels etc., who would make sure we have the professional assistance behind us thus ensuring its success and hopefully that's not too far off!"
Killarney RFC Officers
President: Pat F. O'Connor
Hon. Secretary: Anne Clifford
Club PRO: Mike Fuller
Fixtures Secretary: David Hickey
Chairman of Rugby: Junior Finnegan
Where it began................March 2012
Killarney RFC's new pitch after 85 years