Freedom to develop has 'The Jes' a class apart
Senior champions continue to churn out talented rugby players by encouraging a love for the game
This year Coláiste Iognáid, 'The Jes', claimed their 14th Connacht Schools Senior Cup title with a 13-7 victory over Summerhill College at the Sportsground.
On the same day, The Jes were beaten 17-13 by Garbally College in the junior decider, but it was another outstanding year for rugby in the Galway nursery, which only has around 300 boys.
The wonderful philosophy of rugby in the school has been fostered over time, and head coach Steve Parkinson is the main man at the helm.
He takes care of rugby matters in the school, and preaches the same mantras echoed by Connacht head coach Pat Lam.
The Salthill native is all about the culture of rugby in the school, and once a potential rugby player enters The Jes they are brought up to love the game, rather than pressured to perform.
The entire school buys into the big-game atmosphere as well and every day The Jes are in a schools cup final the Sportsground is packed out with colour and a wonderful carnival atmosphere.
"The Jes has its own flavour. People in Galway might see it as being different," said Parkinson.
"It has no uniform, it is co-ed, and has been for a long time, back since I was going there. People see it as being more liberal, and people can express themselves a little more.
"There is a tradition of arts, culture and music, the show would be big every year. It's lively, and people enjoy the place.
"My own kids are going there now and there's a great relationship between the students and the staff in a very positive environment.
"It's a place that I love and people love going to school there. It's a lot of fun."
Parkinson is originally from Taylor's Hill, but now lives in Knocknacarra, and is a business studies, accounting and maths teacher in the school.
Down through the generations his family have always gone to The Jes, and a close-knit atmosphere is in-built throughout the fabric of the Sea Road school.
The Jes has had a constant stream of rugby talent over the years, with Joe Healy, Eric Elwood, Mervyn Murphy, Eoin McKeon and Eoin Griffin all spending time there.
However, when it comes to match day, what drives these players on is the vociferous support bellowing from the Clan Terrace at the dog track.
"Back in the day it wouldn't have been as strong, but we had city cups against the Bish and you would still pull a big crowd for that. The school would go up and certainly it would always be a good day out.
"The school would all be allowed go to the final of the Connacht Cup now. They walk up through town and there is a buzz around the place.
"They had a chant practice at break-time before the final this year, and the whole school took part. It was very moving when they all sang together."
From this year's crop, Parkinson and assistant coach Bernie Kelly have unearthed plenty of talent that could go on to bigger and better things with Connacht Rugby.
The Codyre brothers have been prominent over the last two years, with Morgan starring on last year's team who beat Garbally 16-15 in the Senior Cup final.
Diarmuid captained the side this time around, and the potential is there for him to follow suit into the Connacht sub-academy.
Parkinson explained that the reason these players grow to love the game is because of the memories they create while playing for The Jes.
"I remember playing myself. As a teenager you love the attention. You have your peers around you, and your mum and dad watching," he said.
"You have the girls screaming as well. No one is immune to that, and the lads love the environment and it drives them out on the field.
"There is a great exuberance and celebration. It's not aggressive or intimidatory. The girls add to it too. It's a great celebration of school culture."
The Jes is a sister school of Crescent College, Limerick, Belvedere College and Gonzaga College, Dublin, and Clongowes Wood College, Kildare.
Unlike those other Jesuit schools, Coláiste Iognáid is not fee-paying, but the culture of rugby remains just as strong.
"Success in any organisation is about people and the relationships you have with them. You need to get people involved and relate to them well," said Parkinson.
"With the players we tend to try and bring them on tour each year. The current senior team we brought to the south of France three years ago. We have a relationship with a school who are arriving next week with 45 of their pupils.
"It's a school in Narbonne. We have been five times in the last 10 years on exchange. College Victor Hugo is the junior school and they have a Lycee for the senior school.
"That's part of it, the touring, but it's also getting good people in who are helping with the coaching and getting the lads plenty of games and building a good team environment.
"You need to be encouraging the lads to get involved and really building a player-driven environment. It all helps to build up an identity.
"Over the years it builds on itself. You have to get people in the right places and build a good culture and spirit and it will stand to you," he explained.
And when people in this province hear a coach talking about 'culture', Lam is the first name that springs to mind.
Parkinson is a huge fan of the outgoing Connacht head coach, and he said last year's Guinness PRO12 success was a huge boost to everyone in the province.
"I admire the way he has carried on his business, I love what he has done at Connacht. The way they play has given all of us encouragement.
"People were worrying about injuries and so on. And The Jes has always tried to play an expansive game. We look to move the ball, get the players believing in themselves, have confidence, express themselves.
"It's certainly what we try and do in The Jes. Pat's tenure has been a huge encouragement to me."