Longhorns launch academy set-up for Irish youngsters

Ireland international Casey Dunne has already established a charismatic reputation within the ranks of Ireland rugby league, and now further afield too.

So it is perhaps fitting that the ebullient threequarter is the man behind a new initiative designed to help more Irish-raised youngsters reach the professional ranks of the 13-man code.

A player at Athboy Longhorns, located on the Republic of Ireland‘s east coast, Dunne is desperate to see some of the Emerald Isle’s rugby talent play league instead of union.

“Athboy Longhorns were started by Phil Gallagher and Mick Aughey in 2005,” Dunne explained to Love Rugby League.

“It was basically as a muck about for rugby union boys in the summer.

“We were the whipping boys of league at that time in Leinster, which had a very strong and healthy competition during the 2000’s.

“We are based at Navan RFC, but our underage academy will be based at Ashbourne RFC, which is about about 10 minutes drive from Dublin airport.”

Dunne has identified a lack of properly varied and competitive fixtures for Irish youngsters as a serious stumbling block for talented players.

The academy set-up will hopefully provide these players with more fixtures against teams from the UK and further afield, exposing young players to a higher standard of rugby.

In March, the Longhorns Under-19s played against South Wales Scorpions Under-20s, in Ireland, a game they lost, but which built some significant Celtic bridges with Wales.

“Our academy is basically a platform for Irish youngsters to have an opportunity to play some proper competitive fixtures before being selected for international games,” Dunne added.

“What’s been seriously lacking is the development in the underage ranks, and the lack of fixtures is a massive negative to the growth of talent.

“Our focus is on the Under-19’s at the moment, as we still have a return fixture to fulfil against the South Wales Scorpions, who were excellent in helping us out with the first fixture in Ashbourne RFC.

“I really want to thank Paul Emanuelli and Neil Williams in making it so easy to organise.

“We had a lot of local youngsters being ball boys etc that day, and they really enjoyed the game, so another project we will be starting is an under 16’s team.

“It’s really just the next link in the line to give them a taste and a start of rugby league, and then giving them an opportunity to play semi-professional or professional teams of the same age, which would be brilliant for the development in not just our club, but Irish rugby league also.”

The lack of enthusiasm from England to make any visits to Ireland or to welcome Irish clubs to British shores is also something that Dunne wants to see improve.

He is particularly keen to build links with clubs with Irish roots in Britain, such as Wigan St Patricks or Dewsbury Celtic, for example.

“What really seems to be hindering our progression is the lack of contact from clubs in England and elsewhere in providing fixtures for us,” he added.

“We are in talks with one or two clubs in England and France, but it isn’t common knowledge that we have underage clubs in Ireland so we have been working tirelessly to change that.

“We also want to look at the possibility of playing games against Irish heritage clubs, especially Wigan St Pats, who have produced countless numbers of Irish internationals.

“League’s a great game and since being introduced to it a few years ago, I’ve had great memories and moments in it, from playing my first game and not having a clue what to do, to playing for Ireland against France in France and nearly causing another upset against them.

“It’s the biggest honour you can get playing for your country, and it was all because of Longhorns RL.

“So that’s why I’d love to see the underage game develop here and with a bit of hard work no reason why it can’t. It just takes a bit of elbow grease and a few quid.”

The need for a “few quid” is a common one in our game, but Dunne is confident that his plans for an academy can prove successful if some sponsors decide to back it.

“We are really a self funding club, and with the possibility of having four teams this year sponsorship would be massively appreciated,” he said.

“The Irish link is England is something that we as a country and a club don’t utilise enough.

“There are so many great second or third generation Irish who are massive names in rugby league, and we’d love to have them help out, or even help make teams aware that we are a viable option for a tour or a game in this beautiful country of ours.

“The other thing is that I’d like to see more past players involved too, as there is a general lack of interest which is just sad really.

“We’re famed for our welcome, but we also want to gain a bit of fame for the talent that does exist here in our youngsters.

“If any kind hearted souls would like to sponsor or help the progression of our project feel free to contact us on Facebook or Twitter.”

Casey Dunne can also be contacted about fixture or sponsorship opportunities at: caseydunne1@yahoo.com

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