(This article first appeared in the Official Matchday Programme for Leinster Rugby’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Northampton Saints on 19 December.)
‘One club for everyone’ - could be the motto for Malahide rugby club as it strives to become more deeply embedded in the community from which it derives its name.In September 2006, the club relocated to Estuary Road, leaving behind their old home on the Castle grounds. The move away from the picturesque village to the exposed coastline setting meant the club became a magnet as a home to players from the north Fingal area. “The demographic of the club is really interesting. We only have between 45-50 per cent of our members from Malahide,” said Paul Donegan, the Chairman of the club’s Business Committee.“The rest are drawn from areas of north Dublin and south Fingal such as Swords, Donabate, Portrane, Kinsealy, Portmarnock. If we weren’t coming up to the centenary of the club in 2022, we would be probably seen more as a Fingal rugby club. The history of the club, that connection to Malahide and our initial patron Lord Talbot, is very important and it is up to us to not only keep it but to build on it into the future.“Where we are, we compete with Gaelic clubs, like St Sylvester’s, Naomh Mearnóg, Fingallians, and the soccer clubs in the area as well as the rugby clubs, Skerries, Balbriggan and Suttonians.“Before we moved down into the estuary, we spent so many years beside Malahide Castle where it was seen as a closed club,” issued Donegan.“We have great numbers at mini and youths level. There would be 600 kids playing on a Sunday morning, benchmarked against 1,000 at St Sylvester’s and Naomh Mearnóg. As our kids grow into their teenage years, they tend to specialise in fewer sports and we lose others to rugby schools, like Belvedere and CUS. “The whole area around Swords, Donabate and Malahide is growing so much and we want to make the rugby club a stronger draw for all those places. We needed to be seen as more open, a more active part of the surrounding communities.” Competition has bred creativity. Malahide has not been slow to welcome initiatives devised by the IRFU and even come up with some of their own ideas.Last year, the club embraced the IRFU-driven ‘Give It A Try’ programme, designed to attract girls from ages 8-14 to learn how to play rugby in a safe and fun environment over the summer. Of course, this was compromised by the onset of Covid-19.There was nothing that could be done about that. There was so much uncertainty. That is when they came up with the ‘Safe Place Scheme’. “We had a call among the executive of the club to see if there was any way we could offer club services to help out within the local community. The local GAA club was offering a delivery service for the older people and vulnerable in our society, who could not get out as they felt unsafe in public.“As we were not located close to Malahide village, on the estuary between Malahide and Swords, we wanted to see what we could do to help
“Following conversations with the then Lord Mayor of Fingal, Eoghan O’Brien, and also members of An Garda Síochána in Malahide, we came up with the idea of a ‘Safe Place Scheme’.“We offered our grounds as a safe location for older people and those who feel vulnerable in the community to come out and walk. The parking available made it the perfect location that they could drive to and feel safe while they made use of the space.“Initially, we thought this was a great idea and wanted to publicise it on social media. However, due to Covid, we decided that the best way to help was to offer the club grounds to a closed list of local older people and vulnerable as well as the members of the club that fell into that bracket.“The lower pitch area of the club was made available and would be reserved for those who were cocooning and/or would like a safe outdoor space.“This area was initially made available to them between 8am and 1pm on a daily basis during the first lockdown and we extended it to 9am to 5pm during the summer months and into the current lockdown. “When the scheme began, the club built paths, upgraded entrances from the Seabury estate, re-doing a bridge, laying down tarmacadam where there previously could have been mud paths to ensure people could come in and walk safely around the grounds.”It has not only had a positive impact on allowing vulnerable people to park and walk around the grounds. It also gave some members a purpose to get out of the house and, within the guidelines, come down to prepare the ground for our walkers.“We want to keep that as a place to walk, long after Covid has been contained,” stated Donegan.“We have to think on our feet. We are getting more volunteers in, more people stepping up to help out. The energy from that is helping us to drive the club on.“It is not a huge club. We have 350-400 members. But, we have aspirations to double, even triple that over the next five years.”It is the commitment to growing those numbers and community-service action like the ‘Safe Place Scheme’ that may well make that achievable.