From the town that six years ago won the ‘Ulster in Bloom’s Best Kept Town Award’ for a fifth time comes Dungannon RFC, a rugby club that has blossomed in recent years.
The Northern Irish side has won every title that it has contested for, amassing 21 trophies since 2000.
Rugby Club Magazine spoke to Philip Stinson, who told us how the club is now starting to focus on its youth set-up to help maintain its success.
“Our youth rugby section has been transformed in recent years and we are hoping to field teams at all age grades this coming season. Our youth rugby teams allow the club to offer the opportunity for those who don’t attend the traditional rugby playing school in the area to play the game. It is vital to the clubs success and widens the net for finding talent and players capable of making their mark in our senior teams.
Following the success of this year’s Paralympics, disability rugby has also started to take shape in County Tyrone.
“The newest addition to the Dungannon rugby family in recent seasons has been the groundbreaking formation of the Stevenson Sharks; a tag rugby team for children with learning disabilities/special needs. The Sharks are based on the trail-blazing path laid out by the Newforge Taggers in Belfast and are one of three such teams in the whole of Ireland. They were conceived by our former Director of Rugby Justin Fitzpatrick who worked closely with the IRFU Ulster Branch, Newforge Taggers and Mencap to make this a reality and bring tag rugby to Stevenson Park for this group of players in the Dungannon and Mid Ulster area.”
The Club has developed many great players who have represented Ulster Rugby, Ireland, Barbarians and the British Lions. In recent years the likes of Stewart McKinney, Willie Anderson, Paddy Johns and Jeremy Davidson have all represented Ireland.
And there could be more stars to follow, with members of the current playing squad showing plenty of potential.
“In the current 1st XV James McMahon is a very powerful, dangerous runner with ball in hand. Scrum half Jason Bloomfield makes the team tick and his swift service really helps with the brand of rugby we try to play. Centre Stuart McCloskey had a great first season in senior rugby last year and we expect big things from him in the coming years.”
But this is not a club that finds success but forgets its role within its community, as Mr Stinson suggests that holding good links with the local community can only serve to help the club.
“We consider ourselves to be an integral part of our local community and we hope to build on that further in the coming season. We are committed to attracting players of all ages and abilities from right across the community giving us a broad pool of talent from which to draw our future senior players.
“We believe that our coaching philosophy of providing the best level of coaching available has proven its worth, bringing out the very best of our players and providing them with the technical skills and self confidence to compete at the very highest level. We provide an opportunity for rugby players of all abilities.
“We treat the players and their families like part of our own Dungannon rugby family and we make sure that we treat them as special guests each time they come to support the club. We think this makes Dungannon a great club to come and play rugby and also a difficult place to leave.”
The club has recently appointed a new head coach in the mould of former player Paddy Johns, and Mr Stinson is optimistic about the clubs chances for the upcoming season.
“We have appointed a new head coach this summer in former Dungannon, Saracens, Ulster and Ireland player Paddy Johns. Paddy began his playing career at the club aged 7 in our mini rugby section and went on to play at the Royal School Dungannon and joining our senior playing ranks in 1987. He was captain of the team that lifted the All Ireland League in 2001.
“We are excited about the season ahead with Paddy at the helm and he is aware of the challenge that lies ahead following on from the recent success of Justin Fitzpatrick. But knowing Paddy he will take the challenge head on.”
The focus for Dungannon RFC in the years to come is maintaining a strong financial footing as the club strives for a further promotion, whilst looking to continue its often record breaking form in the Cups.
“Like many clubs in Ireland we face financial challenges. The current economic environment has made it difficult to attract and retain sponsorship. Nevertheless, we are determined to ensure that the highest standard of facilities, coaching and welfare is provided for our players.
“The challenge will be to diversify the club in as many ways as possible to mitigate that funding gap and to ensure that the club continues to be an attractive place both for our supporters and for young players to develop and enjoy the game.
“The club’s goal is to remain at the forefront of Irish club rugby. To that end our focus will be on developing players from mini through to senior level and to maintain our track record of ensuring deserving players move seamlessly into the Ulster Rugby set up.
“The club will strive to provide the highest level of facilities, coaching and injury rehabilitation to players at all levels to ensure that this core objective is met. The 1st XV have maintained Division I status for 13 years and having been in the promotion hunt last season our ambition now is to move up to Division 1A.
“Furthermore, we are a community club and our aim is to build on our presence in the area and to attract new players and supporters to Stevenson Park. We wish to see our clubhouse and facilities enjoyed by all and will seek to develop ways of welcoming new players, parents, members and sponsors to Dungannon.”