BOYNE CITY — The first professional rugby match Corinne Brennan witnessed firsthand came at Edinburgh’s 67,000-capacity Murrayfield Stadium.
Scotland against Italy. The game’s full range of national pride, rugged physicality and respectful fan bases were on display.
She hopes to bring that to Boyne City and northern Michigan.
“We’re really passionate about rugby,” said Brennan, who along with her husband Dick and Sean Lynch have started up the North Shore Maulers Football Rugby Club. “Because it’s a new sport, it’s like a family. It really is an extended family.”
The coronavirus pandemic impacted the team’s development in different ways than you’d expect.
It’s slowed down the club’s ability to play games, but the down time gave the Maulers braintrust more time to organize. The team has a store to buy team gear, wrote bylaws, submitted incorporation plans to the state, started up various social media accounts and received 501©(3) non-profit status.
“COVID really let us dive a little deeper,” said Lynch, the team’s president and also a player.
Dick Brennan, 48, started playing rugby at age 5, growing up in Australia and moving in his 20s to play in England and Ireland. The couple has boys ages 8 and 12, and the entire family has dual citizenship.
“We’re just trying to get numbers at the moment,” Dick Brennan said with a thick Australian accent. “Nothing is built overnight.”
The team had 24 players at Tuesday’s training session at Boyne City’s Rotary Park, including 11 for the men’s team. Twenty youth players showed up Thursday. That’s quite an improvement from the club’s first sessions last fall, meeting once a week as it started up.
Dick Brennan said the club would like to eventually have a women’s team as well, much like the Blues. The club, which draws players from Petoskey, Boyne City, Charlevoix, East Jordan, Harbor Springs, Boyne Falls and the surrounding areas, coordinates with the Petoskey YMCA for some youth camps.
Tony Dell’Acqua sit on the board of both teams, and the Blues and Maulers hope to have a good relationship. Many of the Maulers players are former Blues who wanted to cut down on their weekly training travel.
The Maulers expect to start in Division 4 and work up the sport’s relegation system. The Blues currently sit in Division 2.
“Everything outside of actually getting a game played has gone pretty well,” Lynch said. “We have a lot of momentum going. It’s all up from here.”
The team trains each Tuesday and Thursday at Rotary Park in Boyne City and hold a team activity each Saturday in place of games until cleared to do so by USA Rugby and Michigan Rugby Union. The Saturday events range from runs to social gatherings to watching games on television.
One hurdle that remains is finding a more permanent home.
“We’re trying to get a home field, but we’re competing against football, soccer and lacrosse,” said Corinne Brennan, who grew up in Grand Rapids before moving abroad. “There’s just not enough field space in northern Michigan. We’re competing with screen time.”
The July 11 Cherry Pit tournament hosted by the Blues was canceled earlier this week.
“We had these big plans of eight or nine games,” Lynch said, “but now we’re just hoping to get in a few sevens.”
Lynch said the team aims to set up some friendlies as things open up.
The team raised money through a can drive this spring and also has an online crowdfunding campaign located at https://www.piggybackr.com/users/maulersrugby/fundraisers/north-shore-maulers-rugby-football-club.