President’s Letter

Dear Members of Cooke RFC,

It is a pleasure and a huge honour for me to welcome you to the 2020/21 season as President of Cooke RFC. The list of Presidents during my time as a member is an impressive one and hopefully I can manage to meet the high standards set by my predecessors. My thanks go to Kevin Simpson for his work last season even though his final few months as President were lost to lockdown.

The months since mid March have been challenging and disruptive for so many people in so many different ways. Covid-19 has brought many changes to our lives, some temporary and some permanent. For the foreseeable future we will have to learn to adapt and live with this disruption but I know that within our club the will exists to carry on as normally as possible in the circumstances. Hopefully we can make it through the season without any disruption but please be assured that we will not put anybody’s health at risk and at all times we will try to make the right decisions.

I joined Cooke RFC in 1987; a fresh faced youth, naïve in the ways of adult rugby. My first match for the club, for the 6th XV, quickly knocked some of that naivety out of me and from there I played up through the club and eventually reached the 1st XV, having the great experience of winning promotion back into Junior League 1 and then the Past Players’ Cup in the 1989/90 season. Every match that I played for Cooke was a pleasure; we have a club that is like no other.

This season sees Steve Alford taking on the role of Senior Vice President. I very much look forward to working with him and the rest of the Executive Committee members to steer the club on the path of progress. All of the Executive Committee members work hard for Cooke RFC and it should not be overlooked that every role is voluntary. At the same time, I encourage anyone within the club who has an interest in volunteering for any role to step up and take on the responsibility. It is a great pleasure to give something back.

On the pitch last season, our senior men once again maintained our position in Ulster Qualifying League One. The McCrea Cup was shared at the end of the season, not having been able to contest it on the pitch. Our 2nd XV and newly re-formed 3rd XV both had successful campaigns and we have recruited strongly over the summer to bring extra strength and depth to the whole squad. After many seasons of loyal service, Colin Atkinson stepped down as Head Coach to spend more time with his young family and complete his move back to his home patch in Armagh. On behalf of the club, I want to thank Colin for his enormous contribution to our playing squad both on and off the pitch and wish him and his family health and happiness in the future. He leaves a legacy which our new coaching and management team will surely build on. Phil Cartmill has taken over as Head Coach,
assisted by Brian “Toby” Mannus. We have recruited Davy Kennedy, universally known as DK, as squad manager. He brings a wealth of experience to this role and we wish the whole coaching team and the players every success.

Our women’s senior team competed well in the AIL once again and also shared the All Ireland Shield, unfortunately without having the opportunity to contest it on the pitch. The 2nd XV also had a rewarding campaign. We have continued to recruit well during the summer to add players to the squad and we greatly value the contribution that is brought to the club by our Women’s section. Helen McGhee took up a position on the Ulster Branch Senior Clubs’ Committee last season and we congratulate her on being the only female member of that committee. Joe Taggart stepped down as Head Coach early in the season to pursue his career and we thank him for his input and efforts. Daniel Allen took on this role and continues to build a strong squad ethos. We wish him and the players all the best for continued success.

At Cooke RFC we are very thankful to have thriving youth and mini rugby sections. The boys youth section has now started to supply the senior squad with players and I thank Noel Brown, Mark Fettus and all the coaches for their massive contribution. Sorcha MacLaimhin deserves our thanks for her dedication to the development of girls youth rugby within Cooke RFC and we look forward to seeing these girls progress to the senior squad in the future. Gareth Corry leads the mini rugby section with a professionalism which is unmatched within Ulster! With his army of coaches and volunteers he provides a safe Saturday morning rugby experience for hordes of boys and girls and we wish him every success for this coming season.

We simply cannot survive without the generosity of our sponsors. I want to acknowledge all of our sponsors but special thanks go to Fortress SEFA as main sponsor for our men and RP Group as our women’s 1st XV sponsor. My thanks also go to Peninsula Print & Design for their continued and valued support and I offer sincere condolences on behalf of the club to the family of the owner Gary Withers, who sadly passed away earlier this year. We recruited many new sponsors last season as evidenced by the almost entire coverage of the senior pitch perimeter. The majority of these pitch signs belong to Cooke RFC sponsors and to all of these I send huge thanks. I encourage all of you as members to support our sponsors’ businesses whenever and wherever possible. I also want to acknowledge the many club members who quietly, generously and anonymously support the club.
You all know who you are!

We hope to be able to continue hosting pre-match lunches this season, safely and within regulations and encourage all members to support these. They are a valuable source of income for us.

Finally, to all of our members, I want to thank you for your continuing support for our club. Keep turning up and giving vocal support at matches, come to the bar and add to the atmosphere and most of all, enjoy it! I urge you to pay subscriptions promptly, especially this season. A letter detailing the subscription fees was sent out at the end of July. I also urge as many of you as possible to join Friends of Cooke; this has become a hugely important source of income for our club.

I look forward to seeing you all at the club this coming season – Pro Gloria Ludus!

Yours in rugby

Richard Irvine

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