Youth section looks ahead to new season

Male Youth

After a 2014/15 season riddled with achievements Enniskillen’s formidable youth section have now begun training for the approaching campaign, and there is plenty of cause for ambition as some considerably youthful sides last season gained valuable experience to carry into this new campaign. 

There were various hurdles last year for the Under-14s with the decision from the Ulster Branch to change from the traditional Under-13/15/17 format to Under-14/16/18, meaning that the previous season’s under 13s and under 12’s came together to form a young U14 squad. The size and development of players is considerable within this age range with some of the younger players being barely 11 years of age while the older boys are well into their 14th year. There was also the challenge of an expanding fixture list for this age group in Portora which meant Enniskillen would often have many of their players unavailable with clashing school fixtures. Co-operation between the Club and Portora has improved markedly over the last couple of years which has allowed this age group access to many more games and given the Club the ability to field stronger teams to match towns such as Armagh, Portadown and Coleraine who have had this advantage for some time.

However, on the days that Portora were playing, last year’s players had to step up to the mark and if we note that some of the strongest players on the squad at this end of the season turned out to be U13s we can say that they certainly excelled in this task. The tackling of Dylan Flynn, the strength of Niall Keenan, the speed of Daragh Burke, the silky running of Oisin Jackson and the front row skills of Conal Sweeney are just some of the assets that the younger players brought to the squad.

In terms of simple statistics the U14s played 15 League matches, won 6, lost 6 and drew 3 and finished, unsurprisingly, halfway up the table. Of much more significance is the development of the players during that time. Under the guidance of Terry Totton, Mark Rossborough, Dave Flynn, Michael Brown and Mark Dowson not only did the side develop into a formidable group to head up next season’s U14 squad but the senior players have also made considerable progress. Another simple statistic; almost a fifth of this year’s Ulster Southern Development Squad is made up of Enniskillen players. Jack O’Hare (full back), John Allan (No. 8), David Patton (hooker), Mark Crawford (out half) and Aaron Clarke (prop) all representing the region. These considerable successes and those of the current U16 squad are testament to the hugely effective Mini Rugby sessions developed by Alastair Keys and the tireless work of the Youth Convenor, Stuart McCrae who, sadly, retired at the end of last season. 

Following the League matches the U14s took part in the province wide Ulster Carpets U14 Cup. Enniskillen made it to the quarter-finals leaving Monaghan and Banbridge in their wake but suffice to say they did not have the luck of the draw in terms of refereeing decisions in the quarter-final at Rainey Old Boys. It was an unsatisfactory way to end what was an otherwise very satisfactory season. However, performances worthy of mention in that match and, indeed, throughout the season, came from James Willis, Matthew Brown, Oisin Timoney, Jay Maguire, Daire Burke, Conan Leonard, William Dowson and, in particular, Oisin (Bomber) Monaghan.

The experience gained will no doubt be a testament to a young group of players who should be mostly retained for the new season to mount a serious challenge for the U14 league.

The Under-16s had a fantastic season, excelling in both league and cup competitions as well as taking the Fermanagh Herald young sports team of the year accolade. The main achievement was the consistency displayed throughout the season from the young side which allowed them to take the Section 2 Ulster league title. This propelled them into an All Ulster semi final against the other section winners throughout Ulster. The young side overcame the first hurdle admirably in a semi final versus Ballymena in a thrilling encounter in which Tyler Millar, Eoin Cleary and Jamie Kelly put in memorable performances to propel the team into an All Ulster final against the formidable Armagh RFC. Unfortunately the talented opposition proved too tough a task despite a great performance from the young Skins side and their exceptional league campaign came to an end.
 
At the same time Skins were forced to remain resolute in the face of remaining cup fixtures which could provide an excellent opportunity for silverware. Despite exiting the mainstream cup at the hands of Dromore RFC Enniskillen now had a chance at the coveted plate they managed to bring home the previous season. The young side laid down a mark of intent in a spectacular semi final fixture against Monaghan RFC, riddled with scores from both sides. Millar and Kelly got on the scoresheet once again but added performances from David Jenkins, Jarlath Maguire and Aidan McKenna secured another final for the young side. Again silverware proved elusive as league rivals Letterkenny, who they had bested twice earlier that year by small margins, managed on the overcome Enniskillen for the first time that season and take the plate title in an unbearably close 17-15 final. 

The Under-18s suffered an unfortunate fate last season as due to restructuring they were simply unable to field a side, a fact which has ultimately led to relegation for the youth section despite the success of the other age groups. 
 
Fortunes improve this season as the youth section at ERFC now once again field three teams, albeit a young under-18s side, but one made up of a host of talent from the previous year’s under-16 group. The coaching structure at Enniskillen forms a fantastic support base; Glenn Millar takes over as head of the Youth section from the long serving Stuart McCrae, and both men also take on the Under-18s coaching post alongside John McClaughry. Roci Allen, Kenny Armstrong, Brian Haire and George Richmond form the coaching staff for the 16s while Mark Downson and Davy Flynn take the Under-14s. It’s clear the youth contingent are eager for the season to start and are seeking to be strong at all age levels in hopes of once again gaining promotion the following season. While the Youth league starts on Saturday 26/9/15 home to Lurgan KO 11:00am the Youth teams will be in action on Saturday 5/9/15 in a friendly home to Omagh. The Under-14s and 16s now train Wednesday nights at 7pm while the Under-18s continue to train with the Senior Men on a Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm. 
 
Ladies Youth
Enniskillen Rugby Club’s Girls Youth Section is now the start of their pre-season preparation once again after what was an exceptionally fruitful 2014/15 season at both Under 18 and Under 15 age grade levels, with both teams recording success as teams and individuals.

Last season the U18’s had retained most of the squad which won the Ulster Girls Youth Cup the season before, as well as gaining a few new recruits including Ellie Ingram, Sophie Magwood and Zoe Donaldson, who all turned out to be instrumental later in the season.

The U18’s season started with a league game away against Virginia, a well drilled team that had their own ambitions for the season. After a slow start from the visitors, Skins slowly fought their way back into the game, and were unlucky not to score a try in the final play, leaving the final score at 14-12. Considering the amount of players Skins were missing and that the side had been somewhat thrown together last minute, this was by no means a bad result against a good side.

Straight after this game, five Enniskillen girls represented an Ulster development side. Alison Glass, Lucy Barr, Rebecca Pennell, Claire Boles and Kathryn Dane all performed excellently and found themselves selected for the Ulster U18 side to play in the Inter Provincial tournament later in the season.

The girls next match was a tough test at home against Armagh in the league. The visitors were well coached and difficult to break down in the early stages. This was until Lucy Barr decided she was going to put her mark on the game. Normally a back rower, Lucy moved to inside centre and looked completely at home. After some devastating line breaks and off loads, Skins found themselves on the right end of a 24-5 home win, emulating the form which won them the cup in the previous season.

After several cancelled matches, Skins found themselves playing a return League Play-Off fixture against Armagh, in Armagh. A slow start nearly meant Skins would undeservedly be finishing the league in 3rd position, until the inspirational Kathryn Dane, took matters into her own hands, and fired the girls up to score several tries at the death and turn the game on its head, winning 27-19.

The last 15 minutes of the Armagh game filled the girls with confidence, showing them what they were capable of, meaning that when the cup Quarter Final against Belfast Harlequins rolled around, the girls were quietly confident. Any thoughts of a slow start were banished when Barr intercepted at close range to score under the posts and set the tone for the whole game. Lucy Barr, Claire Boles, Emma Shaw and Kathryn Dane all performed magnificently, however it was hard to fault any of the girls’ performances.

Confidence was high going into the home Semi Final against Monaghan, perhaps too high. After scoring three early tries Skins rested on their laurels and relied on their defence to see the game out. Ellie Ingram in particular deserves praise for how she organised her defence, shouting instructions from the first minute to the last. Sophie Magwood, Hollie Bruce, Rachel West and Katie Boles all contributed some great defensive tackles to leave the full time score at 15-0.

Skins faced Virginia in the Final, a team that had just beaten Armagh 52-0 in their Semi Final, and were looking to right their wrongs from earlier in the season. A perfect performance from start to finish definitely righted any wrongs, with Skins running away 36-0 winners. Abbie Parkinson’s intensity was influential, Alison Glass never ceased carrying, Alice Hurst put in a defensive performance that had the Virginia 10 running scared, Rebecca Pennell ran the Virginia back line ragged and the two wingers Zoe Donaldson and Niamh Toolan made impressive yardage all game, to name a but a few key performances.

To round the season off, Lucy Barr, Alison Glass and Rebecca Pennell all played for Ulster 7’s in an inter pro tournament in Dublin, as well as playing at half time during the Ulster Leinster Guinness Pro 12 match.

Where the U18’s was a team made up of girls who had all, or at least mostly, played rugby for several seasons, the U15’s were not quite as fortunate. Out of the broader U15 squad, one girl had played rugby before the 14/15 season started, meaning that from the start the girls were advised to play the game, not for results and silver-ware, but for enjoyment, experience and development.  

A tough first blitz saw the limited number of Skins girls join up with Dungannon and play against a strong Virginia side and an experienced Clogher Valley side. This blitz was invaluable in showing the girls how rugby was supposed to be played and was a perhaps an eye opener for the girls.

Blitzes in Clogher Valley, Armagh and at home at Mullaghmeen followed, playing against teams like Virginia, a strong well drilled and physical side, Clogher Valley, a fast expansive and skilful side, and Dungannon who were physical but closer to the Enniskillen girls in terms of experience.

At Mullaghmeen the girls suffered a big loss against Dungannon as they were coming into the game cold, having not played rugby for several months. That said, captain Tammy Miller refused to yield and Annie Masterson and Grace Elliott were some who followed suit. In the next game against a better Clogher Valley side on a wider pitch, Skins started defending as a team and making it hard for Valley to score, thanks to some phenomenal defence from Zara Flack and Sarah Mallon.

In between blitzes the girls had the chance to travel to Ashbourne RFC and play at half time during the Ireland England Women’s Six Nations match. The girls thoroughly enjoyed this, with Ciara Killilea, Maeve Jones and Ellie Mae Maguire the stand out performers.

In the next blitz at Clogher Valley, Skins again took a game to get warmed up, losing heavily to Virginia, but experiencing how Rugby should be played, fast and physical. Skins then took on Dungannon and conceded an early try. However instead of going into their shells, Skins took it to Dungannon with some brilliant running from Mimi Millmore and Nessa Corrigan eventually leading to several tries, which transformed the young Enniskillen team. They then played Clogher Valley and restricted them to only two tries, an excellent defensive display against a very good side.

In the final blitz the girls travelled to Armagh in high spirits considering their performances in the last blitz. They were defeated by Virginia and Clogher Valley but played magnificently to beat the hosts Armagh.

Considering rugby is such a new sport to all these girls, it is remarkable that the U15’s started the season with around 10 girls and ended it with more than double that, as well as the fact that they are now a more than capable rugby side who will hopefully mostly return to develop ladies youth rugby again at ERFC in the 2015/16 season. 

Clearly it was a season littered with successes, marking exceptional development of the Under-15 side and remarkable achievements, both as a team and as individuals, from the Under-18 girls that will hopefully carry over into what should be a great 2015/16 season for the girls at Mullaghmeen. The Under-15 and Under-18 Girls now train Wednesday nights, 6.50pm to 8pm and would welcome any new girls to come out to sample the sport. Michael Brown takes over the role of head coach this season with senior ladies players Sarah Teague, Leona Hallett, Noreen Nethercott and Clare Brogan helping to develop the ladies youth at Enniskillen. Email info@enniskillenrfc.com for more information.