This article first appeared in the Official Match Programme for Leinster Rugby’s Guinness PRO14 clash with Dragons on November 1.
When Basil Maclear was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame on the eve of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, there were many young people back in Monkstown who had never heard of their most famous son.
It was a lesson in how easily the past can be forgotten and, years later, the club would have to learn that change can be a good thing as it struggled with losing its senior status in 2004.
At Sandhurst, Maclear had received ‘The Sword of Honour,’ an award for the best student, and served in The Boer War before being dispatched to Ireland.
It was there his rugby career blossomed as the flanker was let loose in the back division to wreak havoc with his physicality.
“He was the Brian O’Driscoll of his day,” said Dave Mahon, the head coach at Monkstown.
The English-born, Ireland international flashed his brilliance for eleven caps between 1907 and 1909 before chronic knee problems diverted his attention from the rugby fields.
In 1912, Maclear returned to Sandhurst to become the Inspector of Physical Training and applied to re-join his regiment of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at the outbreak of World War 1.
In 2015, the Captain met his end on one of the battlefields of ‘The Great War’ when 647 of his battalion of 668 were wiped out – killed, wounded or missing – in a German chemical weapons attack.
Monkstown is a club steeped in military history with links that persist to this day when the Irish Defence Forces tend to play an occasional fixture at Sydney Parade.
There was a time when Monkstown Football Club wouldn’t have countenanced dropping down from the senior ranks.
For it had held onto senior status from its foundation all the way up to 2004 when it was relegated out of the All-Ireland League.
It took time for one of the oldest clubs on the island to come to terms with their place in the game for as long as it would last.
Their coach knew all about life in the Leinster Junior League.
Mahon played for Newbridge College in school and Bective Rangers in the All-Ireland League for nine years, before returning home to play for and coach the newly formed Newbridge RFC, an amalgamation of near neighbours Curragh and Old Kilcullen.
The Kildare man saw an advertisement for a coaching role at Monkstown in 2012 and has been there ever since.
When Mahon arrived at the club, he found a reluctance to let go of the ties to the past.
“Fundamentally, there is a huge difference between a club that was senior and is now junior and one that has always been junior,” he said.
“Look, the club was formed in 1883 and it was always a senior club all the way up to 2004.
“The attraction of the schools in the area around the club makes it very difficult for the club game to stay alive through those teenage years. You have St Michael’s College around the corner, Blackrock and Gonzaga nearby too.
“It is also very difficult to be a Junior club in an area surrounded by senior clubs like Lansdowne, Old Belvedere, Old Wesley, UCD, Wanderers.
“In the last four or five years, Monkstown has become realistic about where it is, whereas previously there had been a focus on senior rugby and how to get back there.
“There is a realisation that the Leinster Junior League is a really good standard. It is a really well-organised, well-run competition. Dermot O’Mahony inside in the branch does an outstanding job as the competition co-ordinator.”
The beauty of the league is that it promotes a true club experience on game day.
“Your first and second teams play on the same day. You have over 40 lads all gathering together. It fosters a sense of club. It is brilliant,” said Mahon.
“If you are in the All-Ireland, the firsts could be in Cork on a Saturday and your seconds in Naas, or somewhere like that, on the Sunday.”
There are also the upgraded facilities from the dressing-rooms to a state of the art gym and work on the surface of the pitches which have been made possible by significant funding by Covanta, the operator of the waste-to-energy, also known as the Ringsend Incinerator.
This has been underpinned by a greater emphasis placed on the minis section where former Leicester Tigers scrum-half Jimmy Ferris is doing trojan work.
In the 2017-2018 season, Monkstown were anchored at the foot of Leinster Junior League 1A with one point from eight rounds.
“The commitment was made to die with our boots on for the rest of the season in order that it might generate hope for the following season,” said Mahon.
“We won four games in a row to get the lads thinking about what might be possible, even though we got relegated. We lost no players. That was a big factor.
“Last season, we won 11 out of 14 games, the same as Suttonians and Longford, to come close to promotion. We lost out on bonus-points and Suttonians are now in 1A.
“That gave us the confidence to believe we can get promoted this season as long as we can build on what we did,” he added.
Better again, ex-Connacht full-back Danny Riordan, prop Declan Lavery and lock Jake Kennedy moved from Old Belvedere as well as Lansdowne pair in out-half Charlie McMicken and wing James Lappin and Terenure flanker John Dever, joining stalwarts Michael McLoughlin, Bill Duggan and Cathal Bannon.
Already, Monkstown have created a 10-point cushion at the top of 1B from the opening eight rounds. It looks like their failure to pick up bonus-points last season has been addressed, securing five to fall just three points short of a maximum return.
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