Wednesday 20 September 2017

The Bish are ready to be a force once again

Club focus: St Joseph's College
Senior Development Cup champions in 2015
Senior Development Cup champions in 2015

Daragh Small

Despite its confined inner-city location, it's remarkable to think that St Joseph's 'the Bish' have consistently produced some of Galway's best sporting talent over the years.

Olympians, professional soccer players and GAA All-Stars have all once studied at the Nun's Island nursery, and rugby has always had a rich history there too.

They continue to fight against the odds, with a five-year cycle that isn't conducive to being competitive year on year in the Connacht Senior Schools Cup, but that didn't deter Connacht's Andrew Browne, Darragh Leader and Ciaran Gaffney from attending in the past.

Ex-Connacht lock Damien Browne also went there, and after a few years in the doldrums the Bish have gradually become very competitive in Connacht schools rugby once more.

The U-18 Rugby Connacht League Champions in 2014
The U-18 Rugby Connacht League Champions in 2014

A lot of the credit for their rugby renaissance must go to Ambrose Conboy. But he has since moved on to become the Elite Player Development Officer with the Connacht Rugby academy, and now Derek Murray has the reins as rugby master.

"The last rugby master was Ambrose Conboy who was a fairly high-level player in his day. He has transitioned over to professional coaching with Connacht Rugby itself. That left me, I was just an assistant coach helping him out. I went in to fill in the role," says Murray.

The 35-year-old Galway native is a past-pupil of the Bish and finished his Leaving Cert there in 1999. Now he is a maths teacher in the school, and he combines that with his athletics coaching and rugby duties.

Master "Being a rugby master is all about the general running of the teams. The individual coaches look after the fixtures. I am linked in with the junior and senior team in terms of co-ordinating fixtures and coaching as well. I make sure injury forms are sent in and fixtures are fulfilled."

With such a lack of space, it would have been easy for the school to fall behind in their extra-curricular activities, but the sporting achievements continue to flow.

Ireland international goalkeeper David Forde honed his skills at the Bish, as did the new president of the GPA and former Galway hurling captain David Collins; and esteemed Irish rower, and two-time Olympian, Neville Maxwell.

The 1916 senior side.
The 1916 senior side.

But there is new batch of rugby talent coming through and with four players on the Connacht U-18 squad, the Bish have restarted their conveyor-belt of talent.

Training remains a problem, but if the school gets the go-ahead for a new green-field site in Dangan, the rugby revolution could really pick up pace.

"There's a good ethos in the school. It follows the learnings of Daniel Delaney a Patrician brother. It is quite an academic school and a high achieving sporting school," says Murray.

"In the last eight to ten years we have won a lot of 'A' level titles in soccer and basketball. And we are one of the leading schools in the country in rowing.

"We used to be at the top in rugby. We have dropped back but we are trying to get back now. We are competitive in the last two years anyway. It has been an improvement.

"We train down in South Park, the Swamp. We have got to get our training in at lunch break. We also walk through plays and do our lineout moves in the school yard.

"But training is difficult for us. There is a potential move to a green-field site in a few years. But that has to go through all the planning phases before that can happen."

A move there would increase the chances of the Bish becoming a six-year cycle school, thus putting them right back up there and in with a chance of becoming a powerhouse in the Connacht Schools Cups.

"All of our guys get their work done at club level. There's Galwegians, Corinthians, NUIG etc, they do the bulk of the work. In the other provinces you might play for a schools team and that's your club team also. In Connacht, the kids play for a club separately.

"When the guys come into us they have the skills already. Connacht are helping out as well with the regional development officers. We have had one or two players come down as well which has been great."

The work being done at club level in the province has ramped up in recent years, and with Connacht's success in winning the Pro12 last season, there has been a huge growth in the sport.

That has been felt in the Bish too, and being based in Galway city has helped from that point of view.

But they will still be up against it when it comes to winning Connacht Schools Senior Cups until Transition Year becomes available in the school.

The Bish haven't won a Connacht senior cup since 1994, and although they have improved in recent years, rugby master Murray, knows they are fighting a losing battle.

"If you consider those six-year cycle schools get their team together at transition year stage and they are together then for three years. They have that extra year of maturity, mental maturity and time together as a squad. That hinders us a lot.

"We have been competitive in the last couple of years. But before that it can be hard to motivate guys when you are shipping 60 or 70 points in the past.

"This year and last year the lads have been very motivated, they have been quite a number of underage guys linked in with the Connacht underage squads and they are leading the guys here.

"Next year we will take a hit at senior because we are losing a lot of the guys from the squad this year. Next year's team is going to be very young.

"There will only be three or four guys who will be U-18, the rest will be U-17.

"It goes cyclical, so that's how the last two years have gone well. But we are always quite competitive at junior level."

  • St Joseph's College
  • Web: www.bish.ie
  • Twitter: @stjosephsbish

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