Football stronghold embracing the oval ball
Rugby making its mark in storied GAA town as rival codes work together for benefit of sporting community, writes Ciarán McGreal
Published 25/11/2016 | 02:30
Like many Galway towns, Dunmore has traditionally been associated with Gaelic football and interestingly, five men from GAA backgrounds founded the local rugby club.
Eamon Glennon, Jimmy Howley, Peter Comer, Tom Fahy and Jimmy Diskin often talked about setting up a rugby club in the town and the men achieved their aim when Dunmore RFC got up and running in 1975.
The local GAA club, Dunmore McHales, have won 15 Galway Senior Football Championships over the years and the local soccer club, Dunmore AFC, was founded four years after the rugby club in 1979 to swell the multi-cultural aspect of sport in the town.
In a relatively small town, sports clubs can sometimes struggle with numbers, but Dunmore RFC president Jimmy Coen stresses that the rugby club have a strong relationship with its football and soccer counterparts.
"We have a good relationship with Dunmore McHales and the soccer club," he says. "It's basically the same pool of players we're pulling from but we have a good relationship in that we try to switch matches and that sort of thing. It works well."
The club's senior team are coached by Jason Ronayne, Dónal Raftery and Ger Kelly and line out in Connacht Junior League Division 1C. Dunmore have enjoyed a decent start to the season, winning four of their six games.
They began the campaign with a 31-12 home win over Westport. Another win against Mayo opposition followed a week later as Dunmore overcame Claremorris - who currently share Dunmore's facilities while their own are being developed.
Dunmore's third league outing saw them defeated 27-15 away to Portumna. The club got back to winning ways with a 26-7 away win over Carrick.
Dunmore notched a late try to beat Corrib 18-15 two weeks ago while Corrib copied the trick last Sunday as they won 20-18 with a try at the death.
The senior team are a young side but after their successful start to the campaign the club will look to secure promotion to Division 1B.
"We went down two years ago and we're at the rebuilding stage at the moment with a lot of younger players," says Coen, who has been involved with Dunmore RFC since its initiation in 1975 when he joined as a player.
"Hopefully we'll get out this year and up to 1B.
"Ten of them have come through the underage ranks. I think there are two guys who are 30 or 35 but the rest of them are from age 20 to about 25."
Dunmore's minis section fell by the wayside for a few years but a recent revival sees the club cater for players from U-8s to U-12s.
Keith Corless, the youth rugby co-ordinator with the club, has spearheaded the revival and the club now have approximately 65 players registered in their minis set-up.
"There were a couple of years where we didn't have minis and we can see the fall-off from it now in that we had U-14s, U-16s and U-18s but we haven't had for the last few years because we didn't have them coming through," says Coen.
"We didn't have the bodies to do the work.
"There weren't enough fellas to do coaching but we're lucky now in that there's a crew coming on board now with their own young lads so they're willing to take on the mantle.
"We didn't get into the schools at the time. We didn't have people to go in and do the coaching but now we have that up and running again."
Dunmore also field an U-15 team in partnership with Tuam RFC. Both clubs were struggling for numbers in that age-group so they decided to amalgamate their U-15 teams.
The new team rotate training sessions between Dunmore and Tuam and coaches from both clubs are involved.
On December 28, Dunmore RFC will hold their Christmas Dinner-Dance in Walsh's Bar, and former president of the Connacht Branch Aidan O'Halloran will be the guest of honour.
O'Halloran lived in Dunmore in the past and his son, Tiernan, plays full-back for Connacht.
Tiernan won his first Irish cap on Ireland's tour to South Africa in June of this year.
His exploits during Connacht's Pro12 winning season were crucial - he scored the first of their three tries in the final victory over Leinster in May.
Like most clubs in the province, Dunmore have seen a boost in interest on the back of Connacht's Pro12 success last season.
A number of Dunmore's members made the journey to Edinburgh last May for the Pro12 final and they got to see the trophy again in October when it was displayed at the club's registration night.
"We had the Pro12 trophy in the club for one or two nights and that created a big buzz around the place and a great interest," says Coen.
"A couple of our young lads have been ball-boys in the Sportsground and they get up close to the players so it's a great buzz for them coming back to tell the others. It's a big help."
Tonight, Connacht play the Cardiff Blues in the Sportsground at 7.35 and Dunmore RFC will take part in the half-time game of mini rugby.
This will be a great chance for Dunmore's new players to see their heroes in the flesh and support Connacht in a packed Sportground as Pat Lam's men look to start the Christmas period on a winning note with a win over their Welsh visitors.
Who knows, perhaps some of the next generation of rugby players from the province will be inspired by their chance to run our in the Dunmore colours at the Sportsground?