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Tony Butler, Ethan Coughlan and Conor Moloney, graduates of Ennis RFC, celebrate after securing the 2022 Under-20 Six Nations Grand Slam with defeat of Scotland. Photograph by INPHO/Ben Brady

Ennis RFC proud of its Grand Slam heroes

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Ivan Smyth speaks to Ennis RFC president Dermot Hallahan in the wake of club graduates Tony Butler, Ethan Coughlan and Conor Moloney becoming Grand Slam champions with Ireland U-20s

Barefield’s Tony Butler and Ethan Coughlan alongside Kildysart’s Conor Moloney were part of the first Irish squad to ever win a Grand Slam at this grade.

All three men are products of Ennis RFC’s underage system with Butler and Coughlan coming off the bench in last Sunday’s thumping 59-5 win over Scotland. The former kicked three conversions while scrum half Coughlan’s pin point pass culminated in Josh Hanlon crossing the whitewash.

Moloney came off the bench in Ireland’s nail biting 17-16 win over France in Round Two with the win igniting dreams of a first U-20 Grand Slam.

Ennis RFC President Dermot Hallahan states it was a proud day for the club when the three men secured Grand Slam honours.

“This achievement for the three of them will be there for the rest of their days irrespective of what they do next. Not many can say they have won an U-20 Grand Slam so to have three from the club ensured it was a very proud day.”

The Ennis connection ran deeper than just the three men who took to the field. Scrum half Matthew Devine, who was replaced by Coughlan in the 55th minute, has a connection to Ennis RFC with his uncle Padraig Brennan coaching the men’s U-18 side.

Hallahan hopes the experience that the trio have enjoyed in recent weeks helps propel them to greater heights both provincially and nationally.

“We would have a strong team ethos here in Ennis. I’m sure they experienced it to a greater degree with the U-20 team. To play against the best in your age class and to come through will give
them confidence.

“If they can stay injury free then hopefully they might get more appearances with Munster and maybe Ireland. It’s tough because not many from U-20 make that step up but they have shown before that they can be counted on.”

After the trio came off the bench in Munster’s Champions Cup win against Wasps, the focus immediately shifted to establishing themselves in the Irish U-20 set up.

The trio were immediately called in to the Irish squad as they played a warm up game against Italy with Butler slotting a penalty in the defeat.

That loss appears to have galvanised the side as they beat traditional powerhouses France and England away from home while also conquering Wales and Scotland. They also avenged that challenge match defeat to Italy along the way to this triumph.

“Beating France and England will be great for them. They will always have it in their heads that they beat those sides and did so away from home.

“There might only be a few who come from that side and represent Ireland at senior level but at the end of the day if these guys accumulate a few Munster caps we will be delighted.”

The club itself is thriving on the field with their all conquering Girls U-18.5s facing Carrick-Thurles in the Cup final.

Meanwhile, on Saturday week the Ennis Boys U-16s travel to Musgrave Park for a final showdown with Waterford outfit Waterpark RFC.

The Clare side sealed their place in the final after an unforgettable semi final with Rugbaí Chorca Dhuibhne finished 14-14 as Ennis progressed due to scoring the first try of the game.

“These are the games you want your teams to be playing. They say if you are playing after Valentine’s Day you are doing well and after St Patrick’s Day even more so. If you are playing underage rugby going in to April then you are enjoying success.”

The club President is relieved the club have managed to retain a large volume of underage players after the pandemic led to little action in the last two years.

“By the very nature of club rugby you only have players for three to four hours a week. They had two years of no on field action.

“There is a critical development phase from roughly aged 14 to 17 and players in that age bracket couldn’t play or train. The hard work of coaches helped to keep them involved and interested
in what was a very tough time.”

“We managed to hold on to a lot of the 16s group and 18s Girls which is an achievement in itself. It is important for people to get out, play sport and socialise so while it’s wonderful to reach finals, to have all our teams playing again is great for the players themselves.”

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