International U18 Rugby Blitz

Underage Rugby - U18

International U18 12-a-side Rugby Blitz

Southern Star : 10th March 2016

One of the biggest events in the current calendar of Skibbereen RFC is due to take place on Tuesday the 22nd March 2016  when a Rugby Blitz with a difference kicks off at the Showgrounds Skibbereen at approximately 10.00am in. A total of eight U18 teams will be taking part in the competition which will have a truly International flavour when two of the eight teams taking part will have travelled all the way from Chicago Illinois in the USA.

The competition is the brainchild of a Skibbereen native Patrick Hourihane now domiciled in Chicago and who also coaches teams within the New Trier Rugby 'Club' which is the rugby club associated with New Trier High school. Patrick who played all of his early rugby in Skibbereen and later in Clongowes College, is the son of current Skibbereen RFC Chairman Bertie Hourihane and together with Club Hon. Secretary Barry Dempsey and others have worked hard to ensure everything runs smoothly for the event. Teams taking part will be coming from Bandon, Bantry, Skibbereen Clonakilty, Muskerry, New Castlewest/Bruff as well as the two teams from the States – but some final team details have yet to be sorted. The format of the competition will be twelve –a-side round-robin tournament where two sections -each consisting of four teams will play each other and the winners of each section to meet in the final.

Understandably there will be major logistical problems in catering not alone for the rugby but also for food , Changing facilities, showering, match officials, pre-match warm-ups, entertainment etc but the organisers are happy with progress thus far and expect things to run smoothly on the day.

The sponsors for the event are Galway based firm Lifes2Good - Established in 1991 it is a rapidly expanding, global nutriceutical business, marketing and distributing a portfolio of category-leading, exclusive and clinically proven brands in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia. The flagship brand Viviscal holds numerous awards and Viviscal dietary supplements are a leading hair growth supplement.

The Trophies and medals for the event are all sourced locally at Jim Seymour’s Jewellers as is all food and sandwiches which will be available to teams and officials throughout the day.

The two US teams are actually arriving in Ireland on the 18th march and will be staying in Dublin for a day or two and taking part in a Mini Blitz in Greystones and a full game against Clongowes College RFC  before travelling south to take in the delights of Kinsale before travelling on to Skibbereen. While in Ireland they will be travelling by Coach – a total of 32 players, 6 Coaches, 6 Chaperones, and a handful of parents plus a mountain of luggage. For their Skibbereen stay they will reside in the West Cork Hotel where I’m pretty sure they will be well looked after.


Southern Star 17th March 2016

Lifes2Good sponsored U18 International Rugby Blitz

While the city of Chicago Illinois has been in the news in recent times because of  the ‘greening’ of the Chicago river, another Chicago ‘rally’ also got a mention, this time for being called off for security reasons associated with controversial Republican Presidential candidate Donal Trump.  In any event by the time you read the ‘Star’ on Paddy’s day Thursday 17th March –the Chicago parade  will in fact have already taken place. Apparently in the City of Chicago if Paddy’s Day doesn’t fall on a Saturday the parade is held the previous Saturday - so it actually took place last Saturday March 12th.

I say this in the context of the arrival of 40-50 plus rugby players and support personnel from the New Trier Rugby Club in Chicago who jet into Ireland on Friday18th March – and losing out on our Paddy’ day celebrations – when in fact they will already have celebrated a week before they left. No doubt they might be encouraged to take part in the tail-end of the Irish celebrations when they arrive -which I’m sure will still be in full swing.

Of course the reason they’re coming is because of a major U18 Rugby International Blitz to be held here in Skibbereen on Tuesday next 22nd March and preparations are at an advanced stage and the organiser’s looks forward to their arrival. The events main sponsors are Galway based firm Lifes2Good - a leading global Nutriceutical business with a portfolio of category-leading brands worldwide and will be on hand to present the winners trophies in the company of a leading International rugby celebrity.

The competition is the brainchild of a Skibbereen native Patrick Hourihane now domiciled in Chicago who lives and works in that City and in his spare time coaches the teams within the New Trier Rugby 'Club' which is the rugby club associated with New Trier High school. Patrick, who played all his early rugby in Skibbereen and continued his playing career when attending Clongowes Wood College, is the son of current Skibbereen RFC Chairman Bertie Hourihane and together with Club Hon. Secretary Barry Dempsey and a loyal team of helpers have worked hard to ensure everything runs smoothly for the event. Teams taking part will be coming from West Cork and beyond as well as the two teams from the States – final details yet to be sorted.

The playing format will be based on a10 –a-side round-robin competition involving two sections - each consisting of four teams. Each team will play each other in their own section and the winners of each section to meet in the final. The game time structure is expected to be two 10 minute halves with 5 minutes rest between. The ten-a-side format of 5 forwards and 5 backs will necessitate some changes to normal rugby rules basically affecting scrummaging – all to be explained to the teams on the day.

Having US teams taking part in this once-off Internationally flavoured Blitz probably began quite innocently over a meal and a few drinks in the Hourihane household and once muted it expanded quickly and involved lots of other interested parties and necessitated detailed discussion between School management of New Trier School, the Club and importantly the Parents of the High School kids taking part. Patrick initially had the onerous task of selling the idea to his US friends and quite clearly he has done that job very successfully as is evidenced by their impending arrival in Ireland on the 18th March .

While the seeds of Patrick’s rugby interests were honed in his native town he played schools rugby at Clongowes Wood College and was on the 1988 team that won the Leinster Senior cup. He played for Currie RFC in Scotland before moving to the U.S where he played for the Chicago Lions until work and injury took over.  Interestingly Patrick is joined on the Coaching side by another Irishman Richard Roche who played his rugby at Greystones RFC before he moved to the U.S. and where he like Patrick also played for the Chicago Lions.

Rugby has become a major hit in the US and is currently the fastest growing collegiate sport in North America and one of the fastest growing sports in US high schools. New Trier Rugby 'Club' is the rugby club associated with New Trier High school. Most schools for insurance purposes make rugby a 'club' sport, just like ice hockey. In the State of Illinois there are over 40 schools/clubs, in three different divisions, New Trier plays in division 1 and last year lost in the state final by a last minute try. The club fields two U18 teams and one U16 team with over 80 kids playing. The high school football program now recommends that most players play rugby in the off season. Given the tough winters in Chicago the season is short with two training sessions a week (indoors) Jan through March and then a quick action packed season April and May, finishing the last weekend of May with State finals.

Being a club sport the team allows kids from private schools in the area to play but 90% of players are currently enrolled at New Trier High School. The school itself is very well know primarily due to it size, it has 4 classes (3rd yr through 6th yr) with an average size of 1100 students in a class (4400 student in total), it's like a small college. The school is in the suburb of Winnetka, IL on the Northshore of Chicago and serves as the high school for the towns of Winnetka, Wilmette, Glencoe and Northfield. The school has been the center piece for movies like 'Ferris Buellers Day Off', Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club! Notable Alumni include Rahm Emanuel (current mayor of Chicago), Charlton Heston, Christie Hefner (CEO of Playboy) among others.

The rugby club is less than 20 years old and current President & Director of Rugby is Leo Sheridan, Leo has played rugby since his college days and is a well know businessman in Chicago and currently expanding his operations into Ireland. His Grandfather was at one time the U.S ambassador to Ireland. Leo's brother Tim is also one of the coaches and will be officiating in the tournament.

March the 22nd is certainly shaping up to be an interesting day of rugby in West Cork and we encourage those of you with a little spare time on your hands to come along and watch some of the matches. The first group of matches will begin at 10.30am and will involve two centres. Refreshments will be available on site and now fingers crossed for the fine weather to continue.

Tuesday 22nd March 2016 - The day of the Blitz

With the weather in a co-operative mood the host Club Skibbereen RFC  welcomed the participating  Clubs in this once-off Rugby International U18 Blitz at the Club grounds on Tuesday last March 22nd. While sadly, and with little notice, a few last minute team cancellations did disrupt the pre-arranged programme it did not dampen the resolve of the organisers and after a quick re-jigging of the schedule the blitz got underway about 11.00 am and was going flat out until 5.00pm that evening. Loads of spectators passed through the gates throughout the day to enjoy the spectacle and view the games, including a few rugby enthusiasts curious to see just how good the Chicago boys were at playing the game.

Well the rugby pundits didn’t have to wait too long for an answer as our American visitors slotted in well from the word go and perhaps not surprisingly, as thing turned out, they matched their Irish opponents in tactics and skill in every game they were involved and contributed significantly to a fine display of running rugby played in the true spirit and meaning of the game.

The tournament proper was 12-a-side round-robin format played over two 15minute periods  and the participating teams of Bantry , Chicago and host side Skibbereen together  produced four teams   - two of these American. The point’s total of each team was carried straight through and the agreed format ultimately led to a final of the top two emerging teams. Interestingly it came down to a Skibbereen/Chicago contest in the final and from the ‘off’ both teams provided a spectacular display of skill, enthusiasm and commitment from start to finish.

Skibbereen even though missing a few players from the morning session got the final off to a good start and looked to be in control for a spell. However all was not as it seemed and after five minutes the New Trier High School upped the pace and we were treated to a moment of magic as Chicago’s Joe Lewis bobbed and weaved his way through the Skibbereen defence and was in under the posts in the blink of an eye. The tournament rules required the conversion attempt be drop-kicked – so no ‘teeing-up’ allowed, and here David Gascoigne made no mistake and Chicago were in the lead  at 7 – 0 and the score stood to half-time.

In to the second half and with the same level of intensity displayed by both sides the spectators were treated to high quality rugby. In the heat of battle every ball was contested as was every pass and kick, and ruck, indeed wherever a body could go to retrieve a ball was considered and ultimately tried. Skibbereen’s Luke Carthy ran in their first try after 5 minutes of the second half and while Rory Byrne’s conversion attempt missed the target the home side were still playing well and very much in the game. In the heat of battle fifteen minute halves move very fast  and nine minutes in the visitors began to edge ahead and their high level of possession was  rewarded with a second try courtesy of strong running from  one David Hirsch. The attempted conversion by Gascoigne did not succeed this time but New Trier had extended their lead to 12 – 5 with about six minutes remaining..  Skibbereen were now under a little pressure and as the minutes slipped away they were inspired by some powerful bursts by Eric O’Brien and they managed to work their way into opposition territory.  From a successful lineout win by Skibbereen on the five metre line, the ball was quickly moved infield and the inrushing Joseph Hickey collected at pace and he was not to be denied  as he got in for a great try near the touchline. The conversion attempt by Rory Byrne was always going to be difficult and even though the line was good the ball just fell short. The score now read 12 – 10 and with time ticking away Chicago kept up the concentration and commitment and continued to run themselves to the ground.  Skibbereen too tried absolutely everything they could to find that extra score, but it was not to be, and in the end victory would go to the visitors – and rightly so as this time they were just that bit better.

Afterwards Skibbereen U18 Coach Mark Hogan had this to say:-

“Before the tournament began it was thought the local clubs partaking would have a higher skill level, particularly because the rugby season is nearing completion and many of the players competing on the day would be competing in Pan Munster and South Munster cup competitions. However the Americans were deserving winners and showed skill levels to match Skibbereen in the final. What particularly impressed us was the number of counter rucking turnovers, strong ball carrying and most impressively their ability to exploit the space that exists in a 12 a side game with top quality off-loading that created opportunities for them to score”

So plaudits to New Trier High School RFC who made the long journey from Chicago Illinois but plaudits also to the other participating teams for making the day possible and indeed memorable and for all the right reasons. Afterwards in the Clubhouse the social part of the event took place and there was plenty of laughter and song – a little later - and genuine warmth evident between the Irish and American communities. School  top’s and Club ties and God only knows what else were exchanged and new and genuine friendships formed that will live long after that final whistle blew.  Phone numbers and email address details were also exchanged and some of the more optimistic even allowed themselves to dream ahead to the Ireland and New Zealand Rugby match in Chicago on the 2nd November next and who knows - some might even make it.

The speeches followed and Club Chairman Bertie Hourihane thanked everyone for making the day possible not least the New Trier Rugby Club from the US. He was laud in his praise for the great display of rugby he witnessed and the genuine spirit in which it was played and congratulated the winning US team on their victory. Having warmly greeted the visiting coaches and family members in his home the previous night he then went on to thank his own organising committee for their hard work and singling out  SRFC Hon Secretary Barry Dempsey who he said left no stone unturned to ensure everything went well. Bertie next presented Skibbereen RFC Club ties to various New Trier officials and coaches as a memento of their visit to Ireland and Skibbereen, and son Patrick reciprocated and presented New Trier RFC Club ties to the Skibbereen organising officials.

Patrick Hourihane then took the rostrum and expressed his delight at being able to fulfil his long held dream of bringing over a team from Chicago to play in his home town of Skibbereen. A lot of planning went into the idea and there were highs and lows along the way but eventually it all fell into place, thanks in no small way to the group of people that travelled over with the team, which he then named and thanked. He spoke passionately of his interest in promoting the game of rugby in New Trier RFC and was confident that the team’s exposure to the Irish experience will stand the team in good stead when they begin their playing season proper in April. Patrick singled out Head Coach Andre Blom for special mention and spoke highly of his dedication and enthusiasm for the sport, the esteem in which he is held by fellow coaches and players and the rapport he has generated with the students.

The winning trophies and medals were then presented by Bertie and Patrick to all the team captains. The winning captain Lucas Barpiz spoke and said how privileged and delighted he was to have captained the side and he complimented his team’s performance over the five days in Ireland. He paid tribute also to the Skibbereen team and said there was very little between the sides on the day and that bit of luck brought them through in the end. He thanked everyone involved who helped organise the tournament here in Skibbereen, their parents back in Chicago and their coaches and officials who organised the trip. It was, he said, a memorable trip for the team and they made many friends and will take back many happy memories of their visit to Ireland and Skibbereen. A selection of photographs taken on the day :-