Rath­new AFC have re­cov­ered af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing fire at Sham­rock Park

Bray People - - SPORT -

RATH­NEW AFC was a sleep­ing gi­ant, but now they are hop­ing to turn their dark­est mo­ment into the bright­est of fu­tures.

On Satur­day, June 8, 2013, a fire dec­i­mated their club­house in Sham­rock Park, leav­ing just the in­door astroturf pitch in its wake. On the eve of the fire’s 10 month an­niver­sary, the Wick­low People vis­ited the re­ju­ve­nated Sham­rock Park, which has gone from shell to foot­ball cathe­dral in that short time.

The recipe for this trans­for­ma­tion? Hard work, vol­un­teers and an ex­tra-large serv­ing of the Rath­new spirit.

Chair­man Barry Mer­nagh (BM), joint school­boy sec­re­tary Ian Kelly (IK), foot­ball of­fi­cer John Snell (JS) and sec­re­tary John Shea were all present and brim­ming with chat and ideas as we dis­cussed the past, present and fu­ture of Rath­new AFC, amongst a whole host of other things. First on the agenda though was, in­evitably, the re­build­ing of the club­house.

BM: “There were loads of vol­un­teers. Lo­cal vol­un­teers out of the club that came up and gave a hand out. We only had to pay two or three trades­men to do it. The rest was all vol­un­tary. It was in the re­gion of €30,000 I think.”

IK: “It should’ve been €60,000 or more - €100,000 – but there was a lot of favours called in.”

BM: “It was mostly lo­cal labour. James Snell and John Snell re­ally looked af­ter the whole run­ning of it, Michael Sul­li­van gave us all the ma­te­ri­als…if you start us­ing names I’ll be here all day, it was just the whole com­mu­nity pulling to­gether.”

But it was not just a mi­nor facelift these vol­un­teers over­took. It was a com­plete re­vamp.

BM: “It was derelict (af­ter the fire). We hadn’t got one thing left on it, we had to pull it all back to the walls; new ceil­ings, new walls. We had no in­sur­ance so we had to fund it our­selves. We raised money, we did a few dif­fer­ent spon­sored things and the good­will of the people; a cou­ple of people came up and gave us a few grand here, a few grand there – none of them wanted their names men­tioned, just busi­ness people from around.”

When some­thing like this strikes, it can make or break a club. Did Rath­new ever feel like they were close to the lat­ter?

IK: “It’s not the way we work around here. We dug in and that was it.”

BM: “From the night the fire hap­pened – it was a Satur­day night – I was down at a bar­be­cue at home and I got a phone call so I ran up the road and when I got up here ev­ery­body was al­ready here and there’s a lawn­mower busi­ness be­side us and ev­ery­one just ran and pulled ev­ery­thing

out; the whole vil­lage was there – pulling ev­ery­thing out. From that night on we knew that was the help we were go­ing to have. As much as people give out about Rath­new, when any­thing hap­pens they stick to­gether.”

And the fire even man­aged to break down per­ceived bar­ri­ers be­tween Rath­new AFC and their neigh­bours.

BM: “The GAA club gave us a good dig-out. They let us use their dress­ing rooms and all for matches. People will try and say there’s a di­vide be­tween the soc­cer and the Gaelic but there’s not, not in Rath­new. We’re all the one. It’s the Rath­new spirit. I can’t ex­plain it, it’s just in us.”

And al­though that night nearly ru­ined the club, Snell now be­lieves that it could have been a bless­ing in dis­guise. It forced the club to have a long, hard look at it­self. And they were not im­pressed with the fig­ure star­ing back at them in the mir­ror.

JS: “I think what was hap­pen­ing to a cer­tain de­gree was that the club was stag­nated. We had all the fa­cil­i­ties but we were sat back on our lau­rels a lit­tle bit. We didn’t add to it. But there is a long-term plan here now; a three year project, a five year project. We want a full-sized all weather out­door pitch. The same with the out­door fa­cil­i­ties for the kids, we want to bring the pitches up to a higher stan­dard. There is a plan; it’s just im­ple­ment­ing it now.

“The com­mit­tee had be­come stale. Now, it’s all been fresh­ened up and it’s about get­ting out there. It’s how you run it. It’s not about us. What’s done is done, its wa­ter un­der the bridge now. It’s time to move on.

“We want the club com­pet­ing at the high­est level we can and at ev­ery age group up along. That’s the long term plan. “

As well as that full sized out­door all weather pitch, there are also plans for a run­ning track based around the soc­cer and the G.A.A. pitch, a project ex­pected to com­pleted in 12 weeks. By then, the Rath­new tro­phy cab­i­net could be inun­dated with new sil­ver­ware. The adult first, sec­ond and third teams are all bat­tling it out on sev­eral fronts for honours. Mer­nagh is re­main­ing coy though.

BM: “There’s no tro­phies won yet, that’s the way we look at it. We just have to keep go­ing. At the mo­ment, we’re putting all our fo­cus into school­boys, that’s why Ian and John have setup their own sub-com­mit­tee for the school­boys. We’re prob­a­bly look­ing at five year’s time more than look­ing at what’s go­ing on this year. It is great, the third team has only come in this year and they can still win four tro­phies. It’s great that the adult teams are go­ing well but as John said, we’ve a plan. There’s a five year; three year plan there and it’s in­volv­ing the 13 and 14-year-olds at the mo­ment; that’s where we’re re­ally putting the fo­cus in. We’ll be hop­ing to step up our level of play­ing.”

IK: “We’re try­ing to get the kids play­ing at a level from the academy right through. We found that the coach­ing wasn’t up to stan­dard. We felt the need to push more.”

This will see the coaches be­ing coached. For­mer Bray Wan­der­ers and St. Patrick’s Ath­letic star Gary Dempsey will be lend­ing a hand, as will Ir­ish Pro Keep­ers coach Ian Fowler. Rath­new want to adopt the Barcelona method of coach­ing - they want to have ev­ery sin­gle team and player coached in the ex­act same way; the Rath­new way.

JS: “Barry has nine Wick­low Cup medals, Robert Doyle has eight. No dis­re­spect to ei­ther, but he could be coach­ing his team one way and he could be coach­ing his an­other. What we want to do is go back to ba­sics. It’s not about him (ges­tur­ing to Barry), it’s about him (ges­tur­ing to Barry’s young son). If they all coach in the same way and it’s drilled into them from the academy at four years of age right through – by the time they’re 18, you can coach them. Be­cause once you’re coach­ing them our way, it doesn’t mat­ter if you’ve 20 medals or no medals, we’re all do­ing the same thing.” But what is the Rath­new way? BM: “The Rath­new way is play­ing foot­ball with an at­ti­tude that you’re never beaten. A will to win.”

JS: “There’s no shame in los­ing, not when you’re giv­ing it your all. But there is shame if you’re not putting it in and the thing is, I hon­estly be­lieve that it doesn’t come down to putting it in on match day, it’s putting it in be­fore match day. You can be the best foot­baller in Ire­land but if you’re not fit enough (it’s no good). “

With­out the fire at the club­house, this con­ver­sa­tion wouldn’t be hap­pen­ing. Nor would these changes. It lit a prover­bial fire un­der their back­side, if you’ll ex­cuse the pun.

BM: “It’s not that it needed to hap­pen, but since it’s hap­pened, it’s made us a stronger club. We’ve turned it into a pos­i­tive thing. We took for granted what we had.

“I think we’d taken our eyes off the ball big time (as a club). We prob­a­bly had too much suc­cess from ’94 to 2002 or 2003. We won 10 Wick­low Cups, we won the tre­ble, we won the quadru­ple, we won U-17s, we won Youths. I think we thought we just had to turn up (to win) and the ef­fort stopped be­ing put in. We went out and ended up with no Pre­mier team one year, we had to play Di­vi­sion 1. We got back up to Pre­mier and the fol­low­ing year the man­ager had to play just to fin­ish out the sea­son.

“There was no team again un­til two or three year ago when Rob­bie Ir­win got the team back go­ing and when I fin­ished up play­ing the lads asked me to take it up so I have it now. I’ve tried my best to put ev­ery­thing I’ve learned from the G.A.A. and play­ing in­ter-county foot­ball and how pro­fes­sional it is, I’m try­ing to im­ple­ment that into us now but it’s hard to do be­cause they’ve never seen it.”

It’s im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore the enthusiasm at the ta­ble. Close your eyes and you might even think you’re sur­rounded by Dun­phy, Giles et al. And al­though they are burst­ing with ideas, none of those plans would en­ter­tain the no­tion of the Wick­low gi­ants de­sert­ing their home county.

JS: “We’re still the only Wick­low club to win the Le­in­ster Ju­nior Cup. But you can still win them tro­phies play­ing in the Wick­low League.”

BM: “We’re 100% com­mit­ted to the Wick­low League and to try and make it stronger, from the U-8s up to se­nior. We just wish other clubs would come in and do the same. We’d be 100% com­mit­ted to liv­ing within our means, we wouldn’t be go­ing to Le­in­ster and get­ting 20 lads from Dublin to play for us and hav­ing no foot­ball for our chil­dren. We’re here to serve the people of Rath­new.”

JS: “It’s not about fill­ing that tro­phy cab­i­net. It’s about the chil­dren. I’ve seen poor teams from here win­ning the Wick­low Cup. You can come down the street here and most of the lads in the pub would’ve won a Wick­low Cup at some stage but there wasn’t a whole lot of sat­is­fac­tion in the com­mu­nity com­pared to G.A.A. If you win a cham­pi­onship and you go down there, the street is black. You go to a Wick­low Cup fi­nal and you have who you have only.”

An­other as­pect of the G.A.A. they hope to em­u­late is the bridge be­tween ju­nior and adults teams, which is some­thing Rath­new feel clubs in this county ur­gently need to ad­dress.

JS: “There was no con­nec­tion be­tween the school­boys and the adult teams. And that’s not just Rath­new. It was right across the board. I think we all need to re­alise and get back to grass­roots – school­boy level – and build it from there. I think ev­ery­one needs to sit down in the one room at school­boys level and it’s some­thing that we’ve been try­ing to work on here with re­gards get­ting ev­ery­one into the same mind­set.”

All these plans and am­bi­tions could hold an ex­cit­ing fu­ture for all as­so­ci­ated with Rath­new AFC, but what do the some of the key mem­bers of the club en­vis­age over the hori­zon?

BM: “We’d be hop­ing that our three adult teams can get a tro­phy each this year. We’d be hop­ing that our U-17s can win a cup be­cause they’re hold­ing it to­gether, we can see a big fu­ture from the 13s down to the 8s. Re­ally, they are the fu­ture. We’re not the fu­ture, we just come up here and try to get things ready for them in years to come and when we’re dead and gone, some­one else will be do­ing it for the next gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren. The fu­ture we want is to be the best club in Wick­low from school­boys to adults. That’s our aim. We want to work with both leagues to try and achieve that.”

JS: “It all comes down to dis­ci­pline. If lads can come up and use and abuse the premises and the fa­cil­i­ties, go out and get sent off or dis­re­spect man­agers or what­ever, and they get away with that; they’re not go­ing to have any re­spect for the club.

“If you don’t re­spect the club, you shouldn’t be in the club and that’s what we’re try­ing to ad­dress here. What the fu­ture is for us is that we want a club that ev­ery­one re­spects and we re­spect our­selves first and fore­most.

“(The hope is that) other clubs would be en­vi­ous of us but at the same to­ken, they’d want to come and play us. It’s about mov­ing the club for­ward al­to­gether in uni­son and with re­spect. It all comes down to re­spect. We want to re­spect the Wick­low League and we want ev­ery­one in the Wick­low League to re­spect us.”

The in­door pitch at Sham­rock Park.

John Shea, Barry and Drew Mer­nagh, Cllr John Snell, and Ian Kelly at the re­fur­bished Sham­rock Park in Rath­new.

Fu­ture club player, Harry Mer­nagh, in the com­pletely re­fur­bished club­house.

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