I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all visitors and members of Lansdowne FC. It is a huge honour to return as club captain for the 2020/2021 season after an abrupt ending to last year. I was fortunate enough last season to be surrounded by a strong cohort of management and players who made my step up to captain as easy a transition as possible. It was a year in which we faced numerous challenges and overcame several obstacles and I am grateful to everyone who worked tirelessly to help both me personally and the team throughout the course of the season. I look forward to carrying last year’s experience with me into this season which again looks like it will be filled with plenty of uncertainty!
There were a number of changes to the coaching staff during last season. Mike Ruddock was deservedly offered a professional role with his native Ospreys, originally on a temporary basis which has since been confirmed as a permanent role. I would like to thank Mike for everything he has done for the club over his many years as the first team coach. He most certainly leaves the club in a better place than he found it, both in terms of the success that he achieved as well as the atmosphere and ethos that he fostered, cementing Lansdowne as one of the top clubs in the country. Mike’s departure meant a rapid transition was required with Mark McHugh successfully stepping up as head coach and continuing to build upon the foundations created by Mike. Ben Armstrong stepped up from the U20s as forwards coach and Phil Horan joined as a scrum specialist, I have enjoyed working closely with the new lads. Scott Deasy returned as backs coach having managed only four months away from the club and we were very grateful to have him back, albeit in a different role. The aforementioned 1st XV coaching staff return with a full pre-season and season to develop their own squad and I know everyone is looking forward to building on the work that they put in last year. Charlie Doel, Niamh Connolly and Dan Moore have also returned in their roles as J1 coach, squad physio and S&C coach respectively. We are also strongly supported again by Steve Rooney, Paddy Gore and Enda Bohan who has taken over from Colin Goode as Chairman. We have been given the best possible group of coaches and backroom staff within Lansdowne to fulfil our potential on the pitch and I know all the players will work tirelessly this coming season to ensure we achieve this.
Last season was most certainly filled with plenty of ups and downs. A lot of new faces joined the squad following the departure of some of the team’s pillars from the previous few seasons. We probably underestimated the difficulty of integrating the new squad and it took us a bit longer than expected to click as a team. After a difficult start to the season during which we lost five league games in a row and left us bottom of the table, there was an uplift in fortunes thanks to an increase in confidence within the squad as well as hard work. I have to give a massive thanks to the whole squad and management team for the way in which they not only continued to work hard after the difficult start but increased the energy and intensity within training and the group. It is a huge testament to the mental fortitude of the group that we rallied from this period to win eight of our last nine games and left us with an all-Ireland cup final and position in the All Ireland League top four and semi-finals to look forward to.
Unfortunately for all, things didn’t end as we would have liked due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. What ensued were a difficult few months and I would like to extend my condolences to all members who may have lost family or friends due to the pandemic and to any members who are recovering from the disease or struggling with the continued lockdown, I wish them the best and look forward to seeing them down in the club in the hopefully not too distant future.
It was a pity that we couldn’t win any silverware for last year’s President, Derry Shaw. I would like to thank Derry for everything he gave to the club over his years as junior vice president, vice president and president. My journey in Lansdowne began the same year as Derry’s junior vice presidency, so we have spent a lot of time together and it was an honour to share my year of captaincy with Derry as President.
A number of our teammates have made great strides in the professional ranks over the past few months. Congrats to Dan Sheehan who was awarded a senior contract with Leinster. Dan played an integral role in the team last year and I’d like to wish him the best as he progresses with his career. I’m sure it won’t be long before we see him wearing the blue of Leinster. Peter Sullivan recently earned his first senior cap for Connacht which was thoroughly deserved after being one of the standout players for us over the last two seasons. I wish him the best as he continues to progress with Connacht. Congrats also to Mark Hernan who featured prominently for an Ireland U20 side who had their sights set on a grand slam having won their first three games of the 6 nations before being cancelled because of the coronavirus. He was unfortunate to miss out on the opportunity of winning a grand slam and of representing Ireland in a Junior World Cup but we look forward to having Mark back in a Lansdowne jersey sometime soon. The onward progression of Lansdowne and indeed other club players to the professional game demonstrates the value of the club game in developing players.
We are excited to welcome several players who have joined the club as well as a number of last year’s U20s squad who now make the step up to the senior squad. Their presence and enthusiasm have been felt throughout our preseason training and I’m sure they will continue to have an impact as we move through the season. Thanks to everyone who has made this preseason possible. A huge effort went into organizing separate training groups, locations and equipment to ensure we kept within the IRFU guidelines whilst also ensuring we amply prepared for the upcoming season.
Covid-19 has also led to the IRFU postponing the start of the All Ireland League until after Christmas for what will be a trimmed-down version of the league but winning this remains the number one priority for the squad. In the coming months we will compete in an extended Leinster League and although we would have preferred to compete in the AIL as usual, the Leinster League will allow us to play against a wider range of our provincial rivals, some of whom we have not faced in a number of years.
On behalf of the players I would like to thank our sponsors for their continued support without which we would not be able to compete at the highest level. I would also like to extend my best wishes to our president for this year, Colin Goode, and assure him that we will do our best on the pitch to make his year a memorable one. Finally, I wish the best of luck to all who pull on the Lansdowne jersey, from our minis up to the senior team. Thank you to everyone involved with Lansdowne FC and I look forward to seeing you supporting all of our teams, when you are allowed to do so!