Friday 9 December 2016

Thriving students passing every test

University hoping Ja Naughton's arrival as head coach can help build on 'phenomenal' recent success.

Darragh Small

Published 02/09/2016 | 02:30

The legendary Ciaran Fitzgerald. Picture credit; Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
The legendary Ciaran Fitzgerald. Picture credit; Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Ja Naughton leads out Galwegians in 2015 and has been drafted in as NUIG head coach this year. Photo credit ©INPHO/Mike Shuaghnessy

NUIG RFC go from strength to strength in the 140th year of their existence, and Galwegians star Ja Naughton has been drafted in as head coach to offer his knowledge and expertise this term.

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The Galway city club have a rich history and were a founding member of the IRFU. And last year the seniors became the first team in over 20 years to gain back-to-back promotions in the league when they went from J1B to J1A.

Dominated

They have dominated the national scene and took home the Maughan-Scally inter-varsity Cups each time between 2012 and 2015.

Past players include former Lions, Ireland and Connacht great Ciaran Fitzgerald, and with the resurgence of rugby in the University they look set to provide more players to the Connacht and Irish set-up in the years to come.

The club competes in the AIL U-21 league, Inter-varsity 2nds, Connacht Junior League, All-Ireland College league, Women's Connacht League and Women's Inter-varsity Championships.

Last year saw more unprecedented success for the university, and along with the men gaining back to back promotions, the women's side completed their three in row in the inter-varsities championships.

Several of the junior men's team were also selected for the Connacht junior squad and played for Connacht in the 2015 Junior Interprovincial Series.

The club operates from their base in the Dangan Sports Pavilion on the Newcastle Road, and they have full access to the state of the art Kingfisher Gym on campus.

The rugby club has seen the benefits of the University's sports scholarship scheme in recent years, and that helps to attract the best of Irish sporting talent to the Galway club.

Five years ago the university set up the NUIG RFC Academy has that has helped to secure the future of the club, as well as fostering in more talent for the senior ranks in time to come.

NUIG RFC also has strong links with Connacht Rugby and a number of past-players have gone on to represent the green jersey, and were involved in the Pro12 victory in 2015-16.

This season looks set to be another huge one for the club, and with the seniors competing in J1A they have acted fast to bring in some extra experience to help guide them through.

Naughton has been one of the mainstays in the Galwegians set-up as they came to prominence in the Ulster Bank League, and he will look to impart his wisdom as the new head coach.

Promotion

Bernie Kelly is the new coach of the NUIG U-20s after the promotion of Naughton, and Connacht Rugby's Craig Ronaldson is the final member of the coaching team.

But former NUIG rugby development officer Naughton could be a great leader and role model for the club in 2016-17.

He was strength and conditioning coach in the university prior to this and now, with a more hands-on role he is keen to make an instant impact.

"Playing any sport in third level is a great addition to the university experience and the camaraderie and teamwork that are involved in rugby place it as one of the best sports to take part in," he says.

"The rugby club has been growing over the last number of years and the success of the senior 15 in the last two seasons has been phenomenal.

"Back-to-back promotions and a Curley Cup victory, added to the inter-varsity success in recent years have really put the university back on the rugby map and I'm delighted to be charged with taking the club to the next level.

"The scale of the task is evident right from the first match (Westport at home in the first round of the Cawley Cup) and competing at the highest level of Junior Rugby in the province is no easy feat.

"But we've recruited well and we're looking forward to getting stuck into the new season."

NUIG chairman Joey Costello is also eager to see what this season has in store for the vast array of teams that represent the University.

With Naughton, Kelly and Ronaldson brought in, it represents a new beginning for the club that has continued to evolve since its foundation in 1876.

The club offers its members the chance to play rugby at a competitive and social level and that is important to ensure the interest grows behind the sport.

It is one of the fast growing sports in Ireland today, and that can be seen with the expansion of NUIG RFC.

Costello thinks Naughton is the perfect candidate to take the seniors up another level while Kelly can fill the U-20s void perfectly.

"Ja excelled as the coach of NUIG RFC U-20s last season and his vast experience of playing and captaining a senior side in the Ulster Bank League over the last ten seasons will bring a wealth of knowledge and insight as we push hard for honours again this year," says Costello.

"With Ja taking over the senior 15 we needed to find a suitable replacement to coach our U-20s team, a critical cog in our player development process and Bernie brings an unparalleled level of rugby experience to the role.

"His work as director of rugby with Corinthians and as head coach of Galwegians, his education background and exceptional coaching qualifications make him an absolutely ideal candidate.

NUIG RFC

Address: Dangan Sports Pavillion, Newcastle Rd, Galway.

Founded: 1876

Famous past player: Ciaran Fitzgerald.

Honours: Record for most Connacht Senior League titles (136), 2014/15 promoted from J1C to J1B, 2015/16 promoted from J1B to J1A, 2015/16 Curley Cup winners, Maughan-Scally Intervarsity Cup winners three years in a row (2012-15)

Head Coach: Ja Naughton

Captain: Conor Hennessey

Club president: Tom O'Regan

Website: www.nuigrugby.com

Twitter: @NUIGRugby.

Irish Independent

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