Ballinasloe RFC: Historic club build on strong tradition
One of Galway's traditional sides is aiming for promotion and a gradual improvement in the years ahead, writes Ciarán McGreal
Ballinasloe RFC is one of the oldest clubs in Ireland having been originally founded in 1875.
Many of the Co Galway clubs are nowhere near their centenaries but Ballinasloe celebrated 100 years way back in 1975 when Dr Conor Carr was president of the club.
A special centenary game was played to mark the occasion as a President's XV took on an Invitation XV. The President's side was captained by Ballinasloe native and Irish international Ray McLoughlin, while the opposition were captained by none other than Willie John McBride.
Ray McLoughlin won 40 caps for Ireland from 1962 to 1975 and also toured with the Lions in 1966 and 1971. The prop played junior rugby with Ballinasloe and his brother, Feidlim, was also capped for Ireland in 1976 against Australia.
The current senior team are coached by Michael Horan who is assisted by former Irish international Noel Mannion. The former No 8 won 16 caps for Ireland and was part of the Irish squad at the 1991 World Cup.
Ireland U-20 international Peter Claffey is a former Ballinasloe underage player. The second-row played in last season's U-20 Six Nations campaign under Nigel Carolan. Claffey currently plays for Galwegians at club level and was unlucky to miss out on the U-20 World Championship during the summer when Ireland reached the final, losing to hosts England.
Ballinasloe's senior team have enjoyed a decent start to the season, winning three of their four games in the Connacht Junior League Division 1A.
They opened their season with a resounding 33-8 win away to Buccaneers and followed that up with two narrow victories at home.
A 6-3 win over Connemara was followed by a 7-5 win over NUIG. Last Sunday, second-placed Ballinasloe played table-toppers Ballina and were defeated 40-16 in Ballina. That loss sees Ballinasloe drop to third but they will look to get back to winning ways away to Monivea tomorrow.
While the senior team is a young side, current president Liam Courtney says the younger players are proud to play for the club and that there are great possibilities for them.
"There is a certain status attached to Division 1A. The winners will go forward to represent the province in the round robin, the winners of which will eventually get a place in the All-Ireland League," says Courtney.
"We haven't been too far off that in recent seasons. We have been third or fourth. I do think the younger players see the possibilities if we make the breakthrough. They could find themselves in the AIL down the road. That is a challenge and an attraction to them."
The club's underage structure runs from U-8s to U-18.5s with approximately 200 players involved. The club have strong links with local secondary school St Joseph's College, Garbally. Garbally are the most successful school in the Connacht Senior Schools Cup having won the competition 45 times down through the years with the most recent victory coming in 2015.
"A lot of our players are students at Garbally. There is a very good relationship between the club and Garbally," says Courtney.
"Some of our club's coaches help out with coaching the cup sides in Garbally. Most of our U-18.5s would be students there. But we are also reaching out to other regions on the hinterland of Ballinasloe.
"We'd be going to Portumna, some of our players go to school in Portumna. Not many but a few. A few go to St Cuan College in Castleblakeney. We reach out to those areas, we're not just confined to Garbally but the majority would be students there.
"We welcome players from any other area to join our minis and underage teams."
Like most rural clubs in the country, Ballinasloe lose many of their underage stars when they move away for college.
"We're like the other clubs in that sense. We have a number of players that, when they graduate from Garbally, would be going to Dublin. Limerick is attracting more now as well with three third-level institutes in Limerick.
"There would be a number of players travelling in that direction. Of course there are some in Galway and some in Athlone as well. Athlone is quite close to us which is helpful because the players are available for selection.
"A number of our senior players are students and, in fairness to them, they come back to play the games on a Sunday. That's why our games are mostly at 2.30 to get them back in time to get buses to whichever colleges they're going to.
"We have five or six third-level students in our first team squad. It's a young squad and this year we've had four or five recently graduated from our underage ranks join our senior squad. We'd have a number of players for whom it would be their second season who would be in their late teens or early 20s. So it is a young squad with a sprinkling of experience."
The club's U-13 side won the Connacht U-13 competition last season while the U-14 team secured victory in the Connacht Cup as they defeated Monivea in the final. The club's U-15 side enjoyed a particularly successful year last season as they secured a league and cup double.
The club also have three underage girls teams with players competing at U-12, U-15 and U-18 level. The U-15 side won the U-15 Connacht Cup back in April of this year at the Sportsground as they defeated Westport in a fine display of running rugby.
"The U-18 side also competed in the U-18 Connacht Cup final on the same day but were defeated by Westport.
Club name: Ballinasloe RFC
Address: Graigueawoneen, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway
President: Liam Courtney
Head coach: Michael Horan
Captain: Andy O'Hara
Notable past players: Ray McLoughlin, Noel Mannion,