Flying the rugby flag in north Galway
In a GAA-mad area, Tuam RFC continues to grow and thrive with the help of some loyal volunteers, writes Ciarán McGreal
The history of Tuam RFC dates back as far 1925 but, like many clubs, the Galway outfit disbanded around the time of World War II, only to reform again in 1969.
Murt McCormack was the president when the club got up and running again and Tuam reached the final of the Connacht Junior Cup in the 1971/'72 season. They were defeated by Ballinasloe on the day but this final appearance helped the club re-establish itself.
Another cup final appearance came in the 1977/'78 season when Tuam was captained by Sean Carter. The team led in the final against Creggs but a try at the death from Creggs' scrum-half Frank Brandon meant Tuam were on the losing side of the cup final by just a single point.
Unfortunately, the club have not reached the final of the competition since.
Today Tuam RFC play at Garraun Park on the Dublin Road and the ground was officially opened in May of 1982. Then president of the IRFU, John Moore, attended the opening and a match was played between a President's Invitation XV and an International Invitation XV. Jimmy Glynn captained the president's side while then Irish captain Ciarán Fitzgerald led the international side which also included Irish legends Moss Keane and Donal Lenihan amongst others.
While last Saturday will be remembered for Ireland's heroics in Chicago, Tuam's first team faced Castlebar away on the same evening and the Galway club recorded their fifth Connacht Junior League Division 1B victory in as many games this season. Aengus Doherty's side overcame Castlebar 29-13 securing a bonus point in the process.
This Sunday, Tuam RFC will cross the border into Mayo again to visit Ballinrobe and the team will look to keep their winning streak going. Connacht flanker Jake Heenan has assisted the club's senior side in recent seasons, conducting a number of training sessions and offering advice to the club's players.
The club's underage set-up runs from U-6s to U-18s and Tuam boasts approximately 250 registered players in its minis and youth sections.
Senior team manager Declan Slattery says he is thrilled with the club's thriving underage structure, despite the emphasis on football in that part of the county.
"We have five of last year's U-18s in our senior squad at the moment," says Slattery.
"The underage rugby has been very fruitful in Tuam despite being surrounded by Kilconly, Corofin, Milltown and of course Tuam Stars. They're all primarily football parishes."
But a number of famous Tuam Stars players have lined out with Tuam RFC in the past and Slattery said there was a real bond between two clubs.
"At the moment we have the Tuam Stars captain, Jamie Murphy, plays full-back for us in the first team. He's been Tuam Stars' captain for the last few years. It's a town that's primarily recognised for football but it's never let the rugby be neglected. There's a huge interest in football but in rugby also."
Before the club had its own clubhouse, they used Tuam Stars' changing facilities in an arrangement that lasted eight years. Tuam RFC were extremely grateful to their GAA counterparts for this and nowadays only a wall separates the two clubs. A number of Galway county footballers have played with the rugby club down through the years including Ja Fallon and John Donnellan.
The club's J2 side have won two Ard na Cregg cups and two league titles in the last four years.
"We're one of the only clubs in the province that has never failed to field a J2 team along with our J1 team in the last ten years or so," notes Slattery.
"That'd be the likes of Ja Fallon and John Donnellan along with a nice bunch of lads that weren't getting much first team rugby and an U-18 bracket, that's how that transpired to be so successful."
St Jarlath's College in Tuam is famous for being an extremely successful Gaelic football school but of late, rugby has become more prominent in the school. St Jarlath's secured its first Connacht Schools Emerging Junior Cup title in 2015 as they defeated Crossmolina 19-14 at the Sportsground. The current president of Tuam RFC is John Ward and Slattery praises Ward for his hands-on approach.
"He's Mr Rugby. John coaches the minis, the U-15s. And he's involved with Jarlath's school team as well. He's coaches the U-15s and U-18s girls teams as well," says Slattery. "Rugby-wise, he is the most hands-on president that we've had so it's good to have him."
The club's senior ladies' side are coached by Kelvin Nunn and they won the Connacht Plate last season. They overcame Sligo 25-5 in the final at Crowley Park with tries from Lorraine Bodkin (2), Marion Sheridan, Diane Mills and Katie Tierney securing silverware for Tuam RFC.
Tuam RFC have a great relationship with the local community. As part of a community employment scheme, the club built a wall around its pitch as well as a shelter for supporters to gather during games. The club recently developed a sand-based training area which has proved particularly useful in the winter months. Another community initiative in which the club is involved is tag rugby for people with special needs which they run in partnership with Ability West.
"It started off as an hour-long session but it's taken off and they play blitzes now," remarks Slattery. "It's been successful since it started two years ago. We had a tag tournament and they Ability West were keen to get involved.
"We are a huge community club. We try to involve the community as much as we can."
Address: Garraun Park, Dublin Rd, Tuam, Co. Galway
Head coach: Aengus Doherty
Captain: Eoin Cosgrove
President: John Ward