‘IF you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room’. So says Nobby Dunne, chief coach of the West Cork Jesters.
The Bantry-based outfit are a remarkable Mixed Ability rugby team who have come together through their love of the sport.
“Their level of dedication is evident alone in their commitment to training,’ says Nobby. “We have three sessions a week; two skill sessions on a Monday and Wednesday and on Thursdays we train in the gym.”
Ultimately, the team are hoping to compete in the Mixed Ability Rugby World Cup, which will be hosted by Sunday’s Well RFC and the City of Cork in June.
Nobby says: “We are on a journey and the Mixed Ability World Cup is a town along our journey which we hope to visit. If we have to bypass that town for any reason, we will bypass the town. But yes, it would be a stop we would like to make.”
Speaking with team player Martin Dullea about how the idea to form Bantry’s first full contact Mixed Ability Rugby Team got going, he said: “It all started after we won all seven of our tag rugby matches up in Belfast. When we came back, we all wanted more and Nobby and Mairead (Co-Action) helped us get everything started. Damien of Bantry RFC and other volunteers have all been very good to us and have given us a hand with training.”
The team train in an indoor arena known locally as ‘the shed’ which gives shelter from the rain and elements, thereby facilitating training in all weathers.
Nobby says helping set the team up was all about the love of rugby — both his and the players.
“After winning the Wooden Spoon tournament in Belfast, the lads wanted more. They loved the challenge so much they wondered what could come next. They wanted to do what other people do and wanted something real, something that gave them a little bit of edge.
“At the time, there were some whispers about a Mixed Ability team, so I picked up the (proverbial) ball and ran with it.”
The social impacts of the project have been huge and beneficial with many mainstream and underage players joining in for training sessions, which gives a wonderful sense of diversity, community and inclusion. Nobby then directed me to chat to some of the women on the team — making it truly mixed!
Kelly said that there are currently four ladies on the team and they were drawn to the rugby team through their original passion for tag rugby and that they love the fun of training.
“There are currently five Mixed Ability teams in Ireland,” says Nobby. “There are the Sunday’s Well Rebels in Cork, the De La Salle team in Palmerstown, The Galwegians in Galway, the Malone’s in Belfast and then there is us, the West Cork Jesters!”
“Our main problem is logistics,” explains Nobby.
“Some of our players come from far-flung areas of West Cork and transport can be a problem. It would be lovely if other mainstream players from towns such as Dunmanway, Clonakilty and Bandon could get involved with the training too and perhaps offer lifts to mixed ability members from their area.”
Rugby is a tactile sport which has many physical benefits.
Nobby says: “With the help of Damien Hicks and Frank Conroy at the gym, the team are already experiencing incredible health benefits such as weight loss and heightened stamina and fitness levels.”
Rugby is also very inclusive, regardless of gender or size.
“The emphasis is all about the team. Everyone on the team is valued and of use. Everyone matters and banter and fun is an important element which makes it an all-round therapeutic experience. Not that many would call rugby therapeutic,” laughs Nobby.
With a team this dedicated, we hope to see them make a stop on their incredible journey in the final at IMART (International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament) in June, a tournament which is set to host more than 24 Mixed Ability teams from across the globe with player and spectator numbers expected to run into the thousands.
IRFU President Nicholas Comyn said: “Mixed Ability is a wonderful addition to the family of rugby, and participants and visitors will receive a true Irish Céad Mile Fáilte.”
Michael Collins of the West Cork Jesters perfectly summed up, saying: “Without Nobby and Damien and the volunteers we wouldn’t be here at all. We thank them. We come together training hard and it’s all coming together.”
For more information on how to get involved, please contact Nobby on firstname.lastname@example.org or Bantry Bay RFC on facebook.