Ennis RFC will travel en masse to Mullingar on Saturday to watch the U-16s vie for All-Ireland honours against Tullow from County Carlow.
The boys have reached this stage of the competition on the back of an unbeaten run over the past two years in Munster, winning both U-14 and U-15 honours.
ike a number of his fellow mentors, Butler grew up following the fortunes of Ennis RFC. His late father, Tony, played for the club’s junior team and served in a variety of positions in the executive. “Like a number of the other coaches in the club, I grew up going to games in the old showgrounds every week and developed an interest in the game from there,” said Butler, who recalled the work done at underage level by the likes of Jackie Morris, Joe Moloney, Malcom Lewis and Michael Considine to mention some.
“They were very involved in the underage structure, which has expanded a lot in recent years. Back then, if we won in Limerick it would be huge, now it’s the norm. Munster Rugby have sent development officers to the schools in the Clare area and this has played a big part in the success that is now being enjoyed,” he added.
Ennis will be hoping to keep their winning run going and capture a first All-Ireland title for the club. Irrespective of the result, however, this team will play in two further competitions before the season ends.
“We will be competing in the Munster close and open cup races. We are due to play Young Munsters in the semi-final of the close competition, while we will face the winners of the quarter-final game between NewcastleWest and Old Crescent in the open cup. The Limerick clubs will be stronger in these competitions, as all school players will be back with their clubs,” Butler continued.
The manager believes the game has got stronger in Clare.
“Winning at U-14 and U-15 levels over the past couple of years, as well as winning at U-18 level last year, has helped attract players to the club and we have players from across the county travelling to train and play with us every week. Our U-15s have already won their league and they will play the North Munster Cup final next week. Players have come to us from many parts of the county and they are learning. Conor Moloney from Kildysart is only in his second season with us,” explained Butler.
Saturday’s final with Tullow is new territory for Ennis.
“We played them in a pre-season competition and they are very strong. They are the leading contenders for the Leinster premier division. There is a strong history of the game up there and Irish international Sean O’Brien is a big part of their club. It would be huge if we could bring the All-Ireland title to Ennis,” commented Butler.
The bulk of this group have been together since U-12, which has helped to build the strong team spirit that has been evident as they progressed through the age groups over the years.
North Munster successes have been gathered each year but winning the overall Munster title broke new ground and all involved in the club will be hoping to take it a step further on Saturday by capturing the national title. Their displays to date suggest Ennis are well capable of rising to the challenge.
By sports editor Seamus Hayes