This was a different sort of year for the Royal Irish Rugby Society, a difficult year. That didn’t make the 2023 season unsuccessful.
Not even close.
“It has been very special,” David Snyder said.
The Royal Irish, long a national and Midwest power, had lower numbers in the program than usual in 2023 – and the result was a difficult performance in the Midwest tournament in early May before losing in the semifinal of the state tournament to an unbeaten Pendleton club.
The Royal Irish also in 2023 opted against playing in the national tournament, with Snyder saying he expects numbers to improve moving forward – and that this season’s players excelled given the circumstances.
“It’s one of the best groups of boys I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” Snyder, in his fourth season as the program’s coach, said.
The Royal Irish, who often featured rosters of 50 players in past seasons, left the Midwest Tournament with 18 players following a slew of injuries in that event. First-year players dotted the roster throughout the season.
“I've never had a group like this – especially with all the first-year players,” Snyder said. “It was one of the best, non-cliquey groups I’ve had. It was a hard season. And obviously wins make everything better. But this was a very special season with this group of boys.
“We had seven guys that never played before who were starters. They progressed fast, week after week. We really learned rugby this year. It was starting with guys who don’t know for the first time.”
The Royal Irish went 2-2 early in the season, with a significant victory over a strong Avon team, then sustained a slew of injuries in the Midwest tournament. They finished the season 5-7.
“We looked at the sidelines and it looked like a battlefield for us,” Snyder said. “We lost a lot of players early. You usually have one injury like that every season. We had four in one day and finished the tournament with 18 players total.”
The Royal Irish, made up of players from Bishop Chatard and Cathedral, in 2023 featured three players from Cathedral. They were:
*Senior Silas Mills.
*Senior Caleb Martin.
*Freshman Tunchi Martin.
Mills was a four-year member of the Royal Irish and a team captain who Snyder called “one of players that make you want to make it out to practices every day and be a part of it.” The Martin brothers joined the program this season.
“Silas has been one of my favorite leaders and just has such an emotional connection to the game,” Snyder said. “He’s a great football player, too, and he has just shown such leadership with all this adversity … then being so lucky to have these brothers show up and commit to something that's new to them – and doing something a little outside of the box, and finding something that they loved …
“It’s special to see those things happen.”
Snyder said while 2023 was a different year, it remained a positive year for a program that long has been one of the best in the state, region and nation.
“It's just one of those transitional years,” Snyder said. “But you know what? Not any less rewarding. They competed and they never lost any sense of determination. They really had a special bond.”
And Snyder said despite difficult circumstances and significant adversity, that’s how the Royal Irish’s players should see the season, too.
“Every year is different,” Snyder said. “It's high school, so every year you graduate anywhere from 10-to-15 guys. I've told the seniors this year, ‘You’re part of this legacy. You share an equal role in the continuance of, of that legacy.’
“Things go up and they go down, but you’ve sustained our programs and have kept people happy to be a part of it. It's going to go back up. It's not about wins and losses. It's about the times in the season when you can you look back and say, ‘Sure, I enjoyed playing rugby.’ That's really what it's all about.”