Club Focus: Celebrated nursery still fighting an uphill battle
Oranmore school Calasanctius College determined to harness love of game and rise above lack of facilities to re-form senior side, writes Daragh Small
Despite fighting against the odds, to the extent where they don't even have a pitch to play on, Calasanctius College in Oranmore has continued to churn out fantastic rugby talent over the years.
Connacht back-row Sean O'Brien is the most notable past pupil, while Irish underage international Cian Huxford looks set to be the next in line for provincial senior honours.
There's plenty more outside of that, and none of this would have been possible were in not for the diligent work of rugby master Bernie Huxford.
The Maree native ensured the future of rugby in the school when former rugby masters Martin McHugh and Sean Grealish left, and now she hopes that the Oranmore nursery can return to the senior ranks over the coming years.
Calasanctius College have been one of the dominant forces at junior level in recent years, but not having a home pitch is one of the main contributory factors to their demise at senior level.
"We are passionate about promoting rugby at every given opportunity. But the difference in the GAA and soccer is that they have got huge involvement in the local clubs," says Huxford.
"The Oranmore-Maree soccer and GAA clubs are involved in the school and for that reason they have higher numbers.
"Potentially rugby could compete with those sports, but we don't have a pitch in Oranmore, we lost it to where Aldi is now. We have no home pitch to play our home games on, for that reason we are really struggling.
"We have to use Corinthians rugby club to play our home games."
Calasanctius College have never won a Connacht Schools Senior Cup but with two Junior Cups and four Junior Development Cups the budding talent has always been there.
The school is located on Main Street in Oranmore, and was founded in 1981, with GAA and soccer the dominant sports up until recently.
But with the success of Connacht Rugby and the likes of Connacht coach Pat Lam living their midst, rugby has started to pick up pace.
"When I came into the school and the previous rugby master left I didn't want the rugby to die out here; if I hadn't taken it on when I did it would been gone four years ago," says Huxford.
"We have had senior teams in the past but just purely due to numbers we are down to U-14s and juniors this year.
"There is huge enthusiasm in the school, but unfortunately we just don't have the numbers to field a senior team at the moment.
"For some reason we just couldn't hold onto the players in recent years, I don't know whether it's the pressure from the parents or what. But we are hoping to build again for the start of next year.
"We could have up to 60 kids out training between the first and second years, sometimes even higher numbers. We have had two years where we couldn't field a senior team but we are optimistic that come September we will be back up again.
"Sean O'Brien was a huge inspiration to us when he was there. And when any of them progress onto Connacht and Ireland, it shows that it is possible to play schools rugby and club rugby, and then go on and play for your country.
"He keeps in contact with the school, and promotes rugby through us. He is very encouraging for rugby in the school.
"We have a few guys who are playing for Connacht across all age-groups now and that's so encouraging for the younger guys coming through.
"We also get great support from Connacht, they are very supportive of us.
"We had a visit from the Pro12 trophy this year. It definitely brings new students into the game. It creates a new interest when they see the trophy coming to Connacht. It just has upped the profile of rugby in the school.
"We have Pat Lam living locally in Maree. And it's very much on the ground rugby, now you can see these people around the village."
And so the love affair with the sport continues to blossom, and for ex-Corinthians Youths chairwoman Huxford, rugby is top of the agenda in her household.
All four of her sons - Bobby (24), Tom (22), Billy (19) and Cian (17) - have played for Calasanctius College in the past, with Cian now doing his Leaving Cert.
He has been capped on three occasions for the Irish U-18s club side, and having that present within the school is a massive step in the right direction towards fostering in a senior side again next year.
But then on the flip-side of that there is the lack of facilities. Losing their pitch was crippling to future of rugby within the school, and it makes Bernie Huxford's job that bit tougher.
"We train on the astro-turf or on the 4G cages in the village. We have no grass training facilities at the moment in Oranmore," she says.
"That's why we are struggling in Oranmore, that's what it is about, not having a pitch.
"But still we have had the Development Cup three times and the Junior Cup twice. And we made it finals when we didn't win it - at junior level we always do well.
"We have the numbers there and then it falls off before Leaving Cert, so we haven't in the last couple of years been able to follow it through. But we have been competing at junior level in recent years and making it to finals when we didn't win them.
"We are struggling overall, we are hanging on in there. But we are not giving up, we have such a passion for the game, watching, playing and competing in rugby.
"Competing is the most important thing of all."
Address: Main Street Oranmore
Founded : 1861
Famous players: Sean O'Brien
Honours: 2 Junior Cups, 4 Junior Development Cups
Head coach: PJ McGauley
Rugby master: Bernie Huxford
Captain: David McCarthy