Friday 28 April 2017

Aran Islander Ciarán making waves

Inis Mór teenager Ciarán O Flaithearta braves the waves each week to fulfill his dreams of playing rugby
Inis Mór teenager Ciarán O Flaithearta braves the waves each week to fulfill his dreams of playing rugby

Linley MacKenzie

Inis Mór teenager Ciarán O Flaithearta braves the waves each week to fulfill his dreams of playing rugby.

The 14-year-old, who hails from Inis Mór on the Aran Islands, makes the journey into Galway twice a week to play rugby with Galwegians RFC. He has been making the journey by ferry since he was 12 when his parents Fionnuala and Cyril first agreed to escort him to the Glenina club.

On an island where Gaelic football is naturally the sport of choice, Ciarán says his interest in rugby was fostered by watching Ireland on television, and playing in the front garden with brother Fionn, who is now 18.

"I always had an interest in rugby, and when I was 12 I asked if I would be allowed to start, so I came here to Galwegians because my uncle (Tim Hernan) played here as well," Ciaran says.

"I guess I was attracted by the speed, the passing, the tackling. I still play Gaelic, but I prefer rugby because of the higher intensity, the tackling, and because it's more physical.

"My parents were not sure - it was more about whether I would be committed, having to travel in and out every weekend, so they told me to keep with the Gaelic football and see how I went with that. But once I started, there was no going back - that was two seasons ago, starting with the U-12s. My parents are happy to see I am committed to a certain sport and that I love it so much."

Ciaran, now able to travel by himself, is on the road and boat twice a week from the end of August for pre-season through to April or May, and, at the mercy of weather, it has not always been easy.

"It's very much weather dependent. If it's really bad or high swells, the boat won't go, and then if the wind is bad, the plane won't go either, and so I won't be able to come out - or I might have to come in the night before.

"I usually catch the 4pm ferry after school - sometimes I leave early - because it's a 15 minute walk to the boat. From Rossaveal I bus into town, either walk to the Swamp in Galway for training or get a lift to Glenina. My coach Niall Beatty gives me a lift back to Bearna where I stay with my granny overnight, or sometimes my granny or a cousin will pick me up."

A Junior Cert student at secondary school, Ciarán believes he can manage study, rugby, and the travelling.

"As long as I get to play, I will put in the effort during the week - even if I had to bring books with me. I'm sure my granny Eileen would make me do my school work."

Although it can be tough, missing out on weekends at home and "Saturday lie-ins", Ciarán doesn't find it tiresome. Instead he prefers to treat it as an adventure, while also "dodging jobs at home as well" on the family farm.

Home is the middle of the island at Eochaill, which he says has shaped his fitness from a young age.

"Cycling, walking, running - you almost have to on an island. It's also a lot safer, going on your bike on the island"

A right winger with Galwegians, Ciarán's ambition is to become a professional player, and not surprisingly Connacht's Matt Healy is his idol.

"Every now and again I get to a Connacht match, but my dad is a big Munster fan, so we go down there too. It was great last year when Connacht beat them in Thomond."

Ciarán has grown up with many of the same team-mates, who this year decided to take pre-season training to the Aran Islands for the first time. It was a gesture much appreciated by the teenager and the locals.

"They (locals )were surprised Galwegians would go through the effort to come out, but they all thought it was a good idea once they saw us having a good time."

A developing team, the U-15s are now at the half-way point of the season and are making steady progress with only two defeats. Beatty says Ciarán is a real ambassador for the club, the Aran Islands and the sport.

"It is his attitude. I think it is unique for this kid who is prepared to come in on a Wednesday evening and at the weekend to play rugby - he is so committed, it's fantastic, and he's a real ambassador for Galwegians and the island."

Irish Independent

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