Tuesday 6 December 2016

Off The Ball: IRFU wasting chance to make Galway a rugby boom town

Michael McCarthy

Published 02/12/2015 | 02:30

Galway is the untapped potential city for rugby growth in Ireland.
Galway is the untapped potential city for rugby growth in Ireland.

Last week on this page, Ger Gilroy wrote about Leinster's need for Robbie Henshaw. Connacht fans took serious exception to this. Rugby fans in the west are angry, and it's hard to blame them.

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I've spent a lot of time in Galway over the years and never found it a particularly good sports town. Pearse Stadium is renowned as the home of awful GAA atmospheres.

Despite bizarrely having three League of Ireland teams a couple of years ago, football has never really attracted crowds.

And in the past, Connacht rugby was in the same boat.

A few weeks ago though, I was having lunch in a pub just outside Galway City, and Connacht were winning away to the Ospreys. It was being broadcast in Welsh on S4C yet the entire pub was enthralled by the game.

I'm not sure when exactly this happened, but the change has been palpable. It's not just the attendances at the Sportsground - it's the feeling around the town. It's obvious too from the texts and tweets we get into the show on a nightly basis that there's a deep and fanatical support there.

They've a chip on their shoulder too, and maybe they've a right to it. Just as they're turning this support into success on the field, they face losing their first real superstar. Henshaw was the missing link for Connacht Rugby, that one marketable star a franchise can be built around.

I think the IRFU are missing a trick. As much as they infiltrate the sporting scene in Dublin, Belfast and Cork, rugby will never be the biggest sport in those cities. In Limerick, it will have a chance from time to time, but Galway is the untapped potential city for rugby growth in Ireland.

There's a city and province there in need of a sporting identity and a brand they can get behind, so why continuously cut them off at their knees?

The reaction we got last week accused the IRFU of having no interest in developing rugby outside of the Leinster heartland. I don't believe this. But I'm not sure if they've spotted the opportunity. It's the wild west for sport. It's up for grabs. Don't waste the chance.

Irish Independent

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