Kindness of locals helps club to flourish
Volunteer effort and some long-serving members means game of rugby can thrive in Mayo town, writes Ciarán McGreal
Situated 15 miles from the Sligo border and 30 miles east of Castlebar, GAA hotspot Ballyhaunis was traditionally a long way from being a rugby stronghold. But back in 1977 the first green shoots appeared when a group of men got together in the Central Hotel with the aim of setting up a rugby club in the town.
Dr Alan Delaney called the meeting and Hugh Curley, Dr Declan Shields and John and Brian Gallagher all attended. Curley sorted out the registration of the club with the Connacht Branch and he acted as branch delegate for many years. Suddenly after a couple of meetings the game began to grow in the area.
Starting off, the club played in Coolnaha for over 20 years and local publican Mick Morris allowed the club to develop changing rooms at the back of his premises, The Horseshoe Inn.
Nowadays things are a bit more developed and the club play in Tooraree on Doctor's Road and boast impressive facilities on a site which was sourced by club members in the late 1980s.
The club has two full-sized pitches as well as four dressing rooms and a function room. An extension of the clubhouse is under way and includes the building of a gym which is due to be opened in the new year.
The club make great fundraising efforts in order to fund their activities and club PRO Shane Ganley explained how important those events are to the club's upkeep.
"Our biggest fundraiser every year is the Barn Dance that we've hosted in the second weekend of August for the last four years. It's been a serious fundraising tool for the club," says Ganley.
"Nearly 1,000 people have come every year to the Barn Dance and it brings the club to people's attention. That all leads to new players. Parents might send their kids to the club to play underage and it all helps with the future of the club."
In addition to the Barn Dance, the club have hosted a bingo night every week for over 20 years. But despite the reputation that bingo is a game for a different generation, Ballyhaunis is a sprightly club and Ganley feels the club will continue to go from strength to strength over the coming years.
"It's a young club but we punch above our weight in certain areas. President Ned Curley has sat on the Connacht Branch for many years and is a well-respected man in Connacht rugby," he says.
"We've hosted big games in the past. Junior inter-pros have been played at the club and there have been ladies' games and college games played as well. Anyone that comes to the club always comments on our facilities.
"We've very lucky to have the past members that we have who have got the club to where it is. Our generation now are trying to leave behind the new extension onto the clubhouse to leave an impact for the future generation and to make sure that, if you're going to play with Ballyhaunis RFC that you're going to have the finest facilities available to you."
The club's senior side play in the Connacht Junior League Division 1B and Gabriel Gallagher's men have endured a tough start to the season.
The Mayo-based club have played six and lost six so far, but the club will look to get some points on the board as they play Castlebar RFC at home tomorrow. Ballyhaunis are captained by Brendan Colleary and all but one of their Division 1B games this season have been away from home.
"We've had a tough start to the league," says Ganley. "We're playing top junior teams. When teams come to play in Ballyhaunis, they can always expect a tough game but the first four games have been away so it's been a difficult start."
The club avoided relegation last season as they overcame Dunmore in the promotion/relegation play-off to secure their Division 1B status. Aside from the league, the club are targeting a place in the final of the Curley Cup. The cup is named after one of Ballyhaunis' founders, Hugh Curley and the club has never appeared in the final of the competition before, a record they will look to put right when they face Loughrea in the semi-final in December.
Ballyhaunis' underage set-up comprises a minis section which runs from U-8s to U-12s and a youth section which runs up to U-18s. Between the minis and the youths, the club have approximately 110 registered players. The club boasts a wide catchment area and Ganley feels that players from outside of Ballyhaunis have played a major role in the success of the club over the years.
"We don't just get players from Ballyhaunis. Some of the best players that have played in Ballyhaunis have come from the likes of Tubbercurry, Swinford and even down towards Ballaghaderreen. We have a big catchment area and a history of players playing with the club from those areas."
Mayo is a predominantly a football county and, like many clubs, Ballyhaunis struggle for players at underage level during the GAA season but Connacht Rugby's prominence in the professional game has resulted in a boost of playing numbers for the club.
"Our underage teams would regularly be at the Sportsground for the half-time games. The last year has spurred on the interest in the province and we've seen a bit of an uptake at underage level.
"The struggle in Ballyhaunis is that GAA is very strong in both hurling and football. Some of the lads that play football and hurling here in Ballyhaunis would play with the rugby club once the GAA season is over. We'd struggle sometimes at certain age-groups to get the players to play rugby as well but the success of Connacht has definitely helped to bring in more players."
Address: Tooraree, Doctor's Rd, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo
Head coach: Gabriel Gallagher
Captain: Brendan Colleary
President: Ned Curley