Bective Rangers have been close to achieving on the big stage in the last couple of years. They have the opportunity to end a 99-year drought for an All-Ireland title on Saturday, with their last one being the 1925 Bateman Cup.
The Donnybrook-based club have been on a journey of self-discovery since being relegated to the junior ranks in 2018. They had to start from scratch in a rebuild that has been headed up by their director of rugby, Bernard Jackman. He got involved with the project in 2019.
They became back-to-back Leinster Junior League Division 1A champions, coming agonisingly close to regaining their senior status, only to be beaten by the now Energia All-Ireland League clubs – high-flying Instonians in 2022, and an impressive Clogher Valley at the end of last season’s promotion play-offs.
Tomorrow afternoon they face another highly-rated Ulster outfit in Ballyclare in the Energia All-Ireland Men’s Junior Cup final. Kick-off at Dundalk RFC is at 2.30pm.
Bective have hit form at the right time having won a few games on the bounce, beating league leaders Seapoint in a must-win fixture to keep their provincial title hopes alive last week. They are hoping it will be third time lucky against Ulster opposition tomorrow.
“Last year we put all our focus into the league. We didn’t really put much into the cup. But this season we decided that we needed to do that as it benefits us as a team to play well in this competition,” Bective forwards coach Louis Magee told IrishRugby.ie.
“The lads know how important Saturday is. We have that bit of confidence from beating Seapoint at the weekend. We’re confident not cocky, we’re playing good rugby.
“Some of the lads thought they might get a run-out in the Aviva Stadium, that’s not happening, but they’re raring to go.”
Ever since Bective managed to beat their local rivals Seapoint in last month’s all-Leinster semi-final, winning tomorrow’s final at the Mill Road venue has been their target. They see it as a platform to put themselves back on the map.
We’ve been talking about it all week here in the club. it’s been our target ever since we won that semi-final.
“To bring any silverware into the club is huge, especially a national title. It brings with it great PR for the club.
“As far as I’m concerned, Bective is a bit of a sleeping giant in Dublin rugby and we just need to be woken up. We just need that bit of luck.”
It took both the players and people involved with the club a while to adjust to life in the battle-hardened world of junior rugby. It was unknown territory for them, but they have found their feet in recent times, just falling at the last hurdle in the round robin competition.
Recent history would suggest that once junior clubs progress via the promotion play-offs, they often seem to flourish once they reach the All-Ireland League, but getting out of their provincial league can often be the real Everest.
“That first season in junior rugby was definitely a wake-up call, we almost got relegated down to (Division) 1B and ‘Birch’ (Jackman) came in to help us out for that relegation play-off, before taking over the job full-time the next season.
“He changed the whole vibe of the club and now we’ve got better infrastructures in place. We’ve got loads of lads training every night.
“It’s been a wake-up call of how competitive junior rugby is and how hard it is to get out of it. It’s definitely the hardest league to get out of. I described it to somebody recently, we’re kind of like Wrexham in the football.
“It took them ages to get out of the Conference leagues and now look at them, they’re flying in the English football league.”
Bective were dealt a big blow when their captain Mattie Keane suffered an injury that will keep him out for the big matches to come. However, they have got plenty of other weapons in their armoury.
Connie ‘Campervan’ Campher provides the power in the front row, Ger Warde is solid in the lineout, and talented young scrum half Connor Halpenny has hit the ground running since joining from Naas.
Former Ireland Sevens international Adam Leavy (pictured below) is reaching top gear in the back-line. His older brother, ex-Leinster and Ireland back rower Dan, has been giving them a helping hand on the training pitch this season on a few occasions.
The Dublin 4 outfit had their hearts broken by Ulster opposition in the last two seasons. Both of those teams, Instonians and Clogher Valley, have since taken the All-Ireland League by storm.
Instonians have put together a tremendous 29-match bonus point-winning streak, sitting at the top of the Division 2B table, while Clogher Valley are currently second in Division 2C. If things had gone differently, Bective could be in those situations now.
Magee admitted it is frustrating but he knows they came up against two quality teams on each day. “Instonians are an excellent side. They’re on a phenomenal run,” he acknowledged.
“We played Clogher Valley in that semi-final last season and it was one of those days where nothing went right for us on the day, sometimes that happens.
“I have no doubt if we had won that game we would have gone up and we’d be flying now. Everything is there in the club for us to succeed now. We’re in a good position with some great young people involved in all aspects of the club.
“It has been frustrating. We’ve put so much effort into winning the league, you go into the (promotion) play-offs, you’ve put all the work in, you’re tired and you lose one game and your chance has gone. It can be tough on that front.”