Saturday 3 December 2016

Club Focus: Blue bloods toiling to stay ahead of the game

Redevelopments in full flight as Tuam Road club seeks to keep driving their standards through the roof, writes Daragh Small

Daragh Small

Published 16/09/2016 | 02:30

Pictured are the Corinthians U-10 and U-11 boys at Aviva Stadium with former Ireland international Luke Fitzgerald.
Pictured are the Corinthians U-10 and U-11 boys at Aviva Stadium with former Ireland international Luke Fitzgerald.

Galway Corinthians are one of most famous clubs in Connacht, and with the recent influx of youth into their senior squad the future is bright for the Cloonacauneen outfit.

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But it's not only on the field where Corinthians look set to excel for years to come. There club are expanding rapidly over the next 12 months and plans are afoot for a new balcony, changing-rooms, a shop and a new training pitch.

Corinthians U-13 girls
Corinthians U-13 girls

It is all part of the dream of club president Kieran Browne and chairman Roy Gibson. The latter is in his second year as chairman and played for the club as recently as last year, when he lined out opposite Westport aged 49.

But now Gibson is focused on the renovations that are underway at Corinthian Park on the Tuam Road. And he is excited about what lies ahead.

"We are expanding the club now over the next year, putting in a new balcony with changing-rooms underneath it," said Gibson.

"We are going to have a stand outside the bar, and that doubles up to afford us the space for dressing-rooms, a gym and a shop underneath.

"We are doing a big sand area down in the new car-park which is huge. It's pitch size and it's a new training area under lights to try and save our pitches.

"And we have put a lot money on our second pitch. It was just a sludge before this but now it is a sand-based beautiful pitch. Everything is moving forward now."

CELEBRATED

The club was founded in the 1932/33 season and celebrated its 75th anniversary nine years ago. The founding members came from St Joseph's 'the Bish' and one of the teachers there, Harry Warner, served as first president of the club.

Corinthians won the Connacht Senior Cup in its inaugural year, in March 1933, and they retained the cup the following season - the Connacht Senior Cup, was the major event of the rugby season at the time.

At the time Corinthians used the Sportsground and the grounds of the adjacent Galway Grammar School for training and matches. The club had many temporary homes such as the Skeffington Arms Hotel in Eyre Square, for togging out, and Cullinane's of Eglinton Street, for committee meetings.

In the mid-60s the club bought a three-story private residence, Ard na Cregg, on College Road directly opposite the Grammar School - that was a clubhouse and meeting place.

Due to the expansion of the club, the club bought a property in the townland of Cloonacauneen on the Tuam Road 15 years later, known today as Corinthian Park.

IRFU president Des McKibbin opened the new facilities in 1985.

The old clubhouse, Ard na Cregg, gave its name to the popular ongoing competition of the same name.

And with the recent renovations Corinthians are set to compete with the best the Ulster Bank League has to offer in terms of facilities, while they continue to foster the brilliant atmosphere around the club.

"Corinthians is a real club. It's a friendly club, we have new recruits from the Ireland U-20 internationals. And they have approached us rather than us going hunting.

"Basically that is because we have a good ethos in our club and the players like that. Everyone is so close here and the bonds are really strong," said Gibson.

Another fundamental part of what makes Corinthians so attractive is the brilliant underage systems in place.

Hundreds of volunteers devote their time to ensure the youths structure continue to develop some of the best talent for the future of rugby in the province.

"The minis are so vital and we are putting in a community relations officer who goes into schools now, that's in conjunction with the IRFU and Connacht Branch," said Gibson.

"They will look to get more youngsters involved in rugby and try and attract them to our club after that."

And it helps when the youngsters see what the club has produced in the past.

Last season's Pro12 winning Connacht squad contained eight former Corinthians. And with academy stars linking up with the club now it all add to the betterment of the quality being created.

"In our senior squad now, there are a lot of 21, 20 and even 19-year-olds being attracted to the club. Cillian Gallagher is one of the guys who phoned us to join us.

"These guys have seen the likes of Ultan Dillane, Finlay Bealham and Kieran Marmion make it all the way to Ireland set-up.

"And Ronan Loughney came from the minis too," said Gibson.

One of Corinthians' most famous sons is Johnny O'Connor. The former Ireland back-row had a glittering career which included stints with Connacht and Wasps.

He began his rugby career as part of the minis set-up with Corinthians and at one stage was even serving pints behind the bar when he got older.

O'Connor won 12 caps for Ireland and was part of the side who won the Triple Crown in 2006.

He went on to play for the Barbarians and after he moved from Connacht to Wasps he won two European Cups and two Premiership titles with the English club.

O'Connor returned to Connacht in 2007 for another six seasons before he announced his retirement.

Eneliko Fa'atau is the head coach of the senior team and this season he will hope to guide his side back into Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League - which would be crucial for the retention of the quality young players in the squad.

"A play-off is a real goal for our side in the Ulster Bank League this season.

"We have a very young team but they have got great potential going forward," said Gibson.

"Even if they weren't to make it this year we are confident that the foundations are there to build into the future and this team will go places.

"With a number of younger guys signing up it's a really promising squad and we cannot wait to see what they can do on the pitch this season.

"It's exciting times ahead for Galway Corinthians."

Galway Corinthians RFC

Address: Corinthian Park, Cloonacauneen, Galway

Founded: 1932 

Famous players: Noel Mannion, Johnny O'Connor, Ultan Dillane, Finlay Bealham, Kieran Marmion. 

Director of rugby: Sean Duignan

Head coach: Eneliko Fa'atau

Captain: 1sts: David Panter Club: Shane Maher

Club president: Kieran Browne

Website: www.galwaycorinthians.com

Twitter: @corinthiansRFC.

Irish Independent

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