BACK TO THE FUTURE
THERE IS something special brewing at Marist Albion.
You can feel it in the air; you can sense it when you speak to the fine folk who toil away on the field and behind the scenes at this Christchurch rugby fraternity. The future looks very promising.
Marist Albion’s new abode, the Papanui Bowls Club, which is a skip pass from Edgar MacIntosh Park (its games, however, are still played at South Hagley Park), was full of life when Yours Truly swung by for a visit two days before the second All Blacks v Ireland test.
It’s not surprising, really – it just so happens to be the day of the annual sponsors’ luncheon.
A who’s who of current and former club members were there to mix and mingle. New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Mike Eagle, Earthquake Recovery minister Gerry Brownlee and Crusaders manager and ex-Canterbury rep Angus Gardiner are among them. It should also be noted that All Blacks coaches Steve Hansen and Aussie McLean and new Canterbury coach Tabai Matson are also proud Marist men and probably would have been there had they not had other commitments.
I’m treated during my time here like I have been part of the landscape since day one. I’m told to help myself to the scrumptious morsels of food on offer via the buffet, and am quickly made to feel welcome by those at the table I am placed at.
The success of the luncheon is a reflection of the good spot that Marist Albion is currently occupying at this stage of its 16-year existence.
Once the festivities are over, I sit down with club captain John Lynch and club legend and life member Maurice Scanlon to ascertain what the secret to its success has been.
They say it’s pretty simple: Marist Albion is now conducting business like the Christchurch Marist and Albion clubs used to prior to them combining their respective DNA molecules in 1996.
“It’s been a re-birthing and we have been building towards this for quite some time,” explains Lynch.
“The last four years we’ve gone back to how things were done in the old days. It’s all about the club, not individuals. We’re all in the one canoe going in the same direction.”
Lynch says it made sense for Marist Albion to vacate its Riccarton digs and relocate to the Papanui Bowls Club as the facility suits its current needs.
“We felt that it was a good environment that sat well with our values, which are about the people, coaches and the players, and it’s working well,” says Lynch. “If you get the environment right, things usually take care of themselves.”
Indeed they do and the move to a new base has been a godsend for Marist Albion. Players from the club’s netball and hockey branches also make themselves at home here on a Saturday afternoon.
“There has been a rejuvenation of people coming back. We’ve created a good environment and people talk. When you’re going up, people want to be part of that.”
It’s not just off the field where things smell of roses. The on-field situation is just as picturesque.
Former Taranaki and Eastern Province Kings coach Adrian Kennedy is preaching his rugby gospel to the players in the premier side. They must have read the pages of his bible carefully in 2012, because the team has secured itself a spot in the top six of the Canterbury metro competition.
Kennedy’s son Ross, who is part of the Crusaders this year, has also been the go-to man in the second row this season. I’m told by Scanlon he has made a “big difference” in the pack.
Overall, player figures are healthy. There are nearly 450 adults and 240 children signed up for this season.
If these numbers and my first-hand experience of the club are anything to go by, then it looks as if it is on the verge of something special.
Here’s praying the Lord continues to bless the Marist Albion with good fortune in the years to come.
CLUB LEGEND Maurice Scanlon has seen a bit during his innings with the club, but 2003 is the year he turns to in his encyclopaedic memory bank because it represented a turning point in Marist Albion’s history.
It was a good ‘un as far as success goes for the premier side, which finally shed its bridesmaid tag by hoisting above its head both the first round title and overall championship banner.
“From there, we have never looked back. That became the turning point and showed people we can achieve that kind of status,” remembers Scanlon.
A star-studded Marist Albion – Ben Blair, Cameron McIntyre, Johnny Leo’o and Casey Laulala played that day – took High School Old Boys to, er, school in the final of the second round comp, running out deserved 31-9 winners.
It was the side’s third victory that year over HSOB and denied them the chance of annexing a hat-trick of Canterbury banners.
For Scanlon, that result was special for a personal reason: “It was appropriate that we won, because it was my 80th birthday,” he quips.
SO COMMITTED is life member Maurice Scanlon to Marist Albion that not even two strokes can keep him away from the place.
Come rain or shine, he is always there and one gets the sense that he will continue to be there until the day oxygen no longer flows through his lungs.
The 88-year-old has been part of the furniture since 1945, firstly with Marist and in more recent times since its merger with Albion, and has got through a small mountain of work in the process.
“He has a passion which burns inside of him,” says club captain John Lynch. “When the club has been at a low point, he has been the first to lead the charge.”
No job is too big or small, but Scanlon confesses that as he has gotten older he has shied away from the administration side of things.
“I’ve always been of the opinion that younger people should run the club. I enjoy doing stuff at ground level.”
Scanlon is also a life member of the New Zealand Marist Rugby Federation and served two stints as its president.
The Maurice Scanlon Cup, a symbol of his enormous contribution to Marist rugby over the years, has been awarded annually to the person who best epitomises all that is good about the Marist clubs throughout New Zealand.
ALL BLACKS (19)
Paddy Burns# 1908, ’10, ‘13
Doddy Gray# 1908, ‘13
Frank Smyth* 1922
Read Masters# 1923-25
Garth Bond# 1949
Tom Lynch* 1951
Allan Elsom# 1952-55
Kevin Stuart* 1955
Jake Burns* 1970
Vance Stewart*1976, ‘79
Casey Laulala~2004, ’06
*All Black out of Christchurch Marist
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.