THERE ARE no airs and graces about Nelson’s Marist club.
There may be more spruced up clubrooms around the traps – though that is about to change – but of course it is the people who make a club. Enter deputy chairman and seniors co-coach Colin Lott with club legend and president Wayne McCoy, the latter a real larger than life character.
A stone’s throw from its home ground Trafalgar Park, the Marist clubhouse seems to be part of the rugby hub at the venue. Literally three metres away is the clubhouse of close rival, the Nelson club. Adjacent to that are the offices of the Tasman Rugby Union. This is rugby central in the province.
Established in 1945 under the name of Celtic, the club adopted the Marist name in the mid-1990s. It’s been churning out Nelson, Nelson Bays and now Makos reps for over 60 years, not to mention some rugged rugby sides.
There are plenty of projects on the go at Marist. The clubrooms are being renovated, partly to give the place a better look, but also to attract more of a family feel. You can bet it will be popular for Rugby World Cup tourists, too, who want to pop over for a drink after any of the three RWC games at Trafalgar Park.
Lott, a former Nelson Bays rep, says a lot of effort is going in behind the scenes to get the club moving ahead, not just in terms of upgrading its physical assets, but also bolstering its junior club, membership of which has fallen in recent times.
At senior level, Marist fields four sides – seniors, reserves, thirds and women’s. Though Trafalgar Park is the home playing base, Marist has trained and played in Tahuna. But Lott says Marist is keen to have more games at Trafalgar Park.
“The senior team playing close to the club is key to the clubrooms surviving. It’s not just financial, but the atmosphere we’re trying to create with family.”
The clubhouse interior is kept toasty during winter with a fireplace in the centre, while there are a couple of comfy couches and an area set aside for the kids. A sponsor supplies the ample firewood.
Marist is well regarded throughout Nelson Bays, or at least Lott feels it is.
“Marist boys are well known for not taking a backward step. We won five out of 10 championships in the first decade of the new millennium and that was based around a very good forward pack. At times we had good backs, but it was based around Gavin Briggs, Kahu Marfell, Callum Taylor, Tere Wycliffe and Mark Bright. They were the key guys,” says Lott.
Bright will be back next month for the club, having just re-signed with the Makos. Crusaders loose forward Jonathan Poff is also a Marist man.
Briggs is a Nelson Bays centurion and his wife helps run the women’s team.
“Briggsy has retired but Briggsy will play again,” was Lott’s comment before the season started. Inevitably, Briggs fronted for both the top sides in week one. Known as ‘Big Daddy,’ Briggs in 2010 played a full game for the reserves and then most of a semifinal for the seniors.
“He’s a tough old bugger and the best example of a Marist club man,” says Lott.
“I think Marist is tenacious. We aren’t an oversized club. We’ve probably punched above our weight for what we have. We’ve achieved better than what we may expect through tenacity and bloody-mindedness. That probably comes back to guys like Briggsy and Kahu that know how to play footy and win.”
The derbies against Nelson are ‘real’ derbies and mostly intense, gnarly affairs in which no quarter is asked or given.
“I stopped playing and came back to coach Marist two years ago. The first game was against Nelson. It was so exciting it made me want to play again. The intensity was right up there as far as club rugby goes,” Lott says.
Marist clubs and their members have special qualities that you will find all around the country. Hard workers, God-fearing people, who love nothing more than a tough game followed by a lengthy after-match debrief in the clubhouse. Nelson Marist appears to be no different.
Part of the club constitution deems that the head priest of the local Catholic church, St Mary’s, be the club patron.
Though Nelson Marist has not lately been to the annual Marist rugby pilgrimage to the Spillane Cup, there is talk of organising a South Island Spillane Cup to help cut costs.
“That season is special for me because I was coaching JAB rugby as well as the Bs. I was also reserving and playing for the As. We won the lot, all three senior grades,” says McCoy.
“I remember taking the bar over at 4pm on the Saturday and giving the keys over at 1pm on the Sunday. I then had to come back at 6pm to kick them all out.”
Lott talks fondly of the 2001 title, the first since Celtic’s sole championship in 1980.
“Probably the only other achievement you could compare was the senior team winning three championships in a row from 2003-05. No other Nelson Bays club has won three in a row, though Stoke have got a crack at it this year,” says Lott.
Wayne ‘Ces’ McCoy has done well to become a club legend after just 17 years at Marist.
But he is at the heart of anything that goes on within the clubhouse or around the club and its footy teams.
Originally from Timaru’s Celtic club, McCoy played for South Canterbury Colts and the New Zealand Police.
“I arrived here retired in 1994, put the boots back on, captained the Bs for the first few games, and captained the seniors for the next couple of years,” he says.
Since then McCoy has coached just about everyone, including the juniors. He’s even helping coach the Wanderers Under 11s this season. Not only did he play seniors with his son in 1995, there is a whole raft of McCoy’s grandsons who are coming through the Marist junior grades. Astonishingly, McCoy even played a game with his oldest grandson in pre-season not so long ago.
What is special about this club to McCoy?
“The loyalty of the players. We don’t lose a lot of players to other clubs. When they come here, it’s like a family. They stay.”
He relates a classic story about his last senior game when Briggs and current West Coast prop Blair Mirfin were in the front row. McCoy ended up starting, and Marist was winning for the 65 minutes he was on the field. Subbed, Marist then lost.« Back to Club of the Week
This weekend throws up another set of games which could go either way.
Which player was unlucky not to make the Wallabies’ preliminary squad for the British and Irish Lions series?