New era of rugby glory rising over Galway Bay
Club Focus: After 10 years, Na Bairneachaí RFC has become Galway Bay Rugby Club, and new recruits are arriving, writes Declan Rooney
After ten years of moulding a rugby club on a side of Galway city that has not traditionally been associated with rugby, it is a brave move to rebrand the club, but Galway Bay Rugby Club are focused on the future and they have lofty ambitions.
Known as Na Bairneachaí (The Barnacles) up until this summer, a decision was reached to rename the club and give it a title more reflective of its geographical boundaries.
While the club has largely serviced the Knocknacarra and Barna areas, they were keen to represent the members that hailed from further out along Galway Bay as well as the youngsters that take part from Newcastle in the city. A club with a wide sweep deserves an expansive name.
"The club was formed ten years ago this August, so the renaming of the club has been timely," says Galway Bay Rugby Club chairman Brian Harte. "Na Bairneachaí is still our nickname. Like most people I misunderstood it for the first while - I though Na Bairneachaí were what the people of Barna were known as, but it's not the case. We had people from other areas on the west side who were reluctant to play with us because they weren't from Barna, so that confusion was there.
"We felt too that our name didn't reflect our ambitions to become a significant player of rugby in Galway in the future. Our kids come from as far out as Inverin and all over the west side of town, so like Galway Bay we feel our name needed to reflect our ambition to be a bigger mini rugby club."
Destination From day one, Na Bairneachaí trained in McGrath's Field on the Shangort Road in Knocknacarra, but even when they wanted to hold blitz matches they were forced to look elsewhere, with Dangan their regular destination.
But as well as a new club name, the infrastructural future looks bright for Galway Bay Rugby Club. They have been proposed as the main tenants of a new public park just off the Western Distributor Road in Knocknacarra, which means that they will finally have the facilities and playing pitches that their swelling numbers deserve and require.
"The City Council are putting money into three areas for sport in the west side of the city, and one of them a brand new public park off Kingston, which is next door to St John the Apostle's school in Knocknacarra," says Brian.
"We were recommended as stakeholders for the new rugby pitch there and that has been passed by the council. It has just completed a public consultation stage and we are now hoping that it will be ratified at September's meeting of the City Council.
"That would give us a rugby pitch, with rugby posts, which would allow us to play U-13 games. You cannot play U-13 without a set of rugby posts - McGrath's Field only has Gaelic football posts. You also have to have somewhere to give someone a cup of tea afterwards and changing facilities. As well as that it would be nice to have a new home."
With the new club name, Galway Bay Rugby Club have launched a new jersey for the new season. While they retain their red and black colours, the name of Galway charity Jigsaw will be worn proudly on the front of the shirts.
As far as the club can tell, they are the first underage club in the country to devote their main sponsors slot to a charity, but none of it would have been possible without the generosity of their paying sponsors, Leo Walsh Pharmacy and St Anthony's & Claddagh Credit Union.
"We have partnered with Jigsaw for the next three years. We have managed to secure funding for the jersey sponsorship for the first time, but we felt it would be a nice thing to put a charity on the front of it rather than a business," says honorary secretary Johnny Feeney. "But that wasn't possible without our paying sponsors. Both Leo Walsh Pharmacy and St Anthony's and The Claddagh Credit Union have foregone their prime positions on the shirt and they deserve huge credit for that."
Over the last ten years several hundred young rugby players have been taught the basics of the game with Na Bairneachaí, but due to a lack of facilities in the club, once a player reaches the age of 13 they then graduate and play with NUIG Academy. In fact the relationship has already completed one full circle as a handful of former Bairneachaí players were on last year's NUIG U-18.5 team that took the honours in the Development League.
And with a hunger to give their youngsters a solid grounding in the game Brian is delighted to see their numbers growing steadily.
"We started off with a few dozen players but last season we had 140 kids registered for the U-6 to U-12 age group," says the chairman.
"Once the kids hit 12 they had no where to go and migrated across town to 'Wegians and Corinthians. But in order to keep kids playing rugby on the west side of town there was an alliance made with NUIG RFC. The NUIG Academy has been up and running for five or six years.
"This year our first ever U-7s played their first season for the U-18.5s and seeing those first beginners reach maturity and to have a trophy at the end of it is a real thrill."
And each year the cycle starts again. Tomorrow morning the next generation of players - the first Galway Bay Rugby Club stars - will pick up a rugby ball and run for the first time.
And according to Johnny, the door is open for anyone who wants to give the game a try, and the club's 'Try Rugby' programme means that youngsters can turn up for the next four Saturdays and give the game a go before they sign on as an official member.
"What struck me when I joined first is that every kid gets a game. Rugby is straightforward when you're a kid: you pick up the ball and start running. Every kid is capable of doing that.
"This year's training starts on Saturday, September 2 at 10.30am for the U-7 to U-11 age group, and from 12 noon till 1.30pm for the U-12s. I'd encourage anyone interested to come along and give the game a go."