'Baby sport' on the rise as new school gives lessons
Coláiste Bhaile Chláir has embraced rugby in its early days and the game is flourishing there, writes Daragh Small
For years Claregalway yearned for a secondary school to cater for its booming population, and that demand was finally catered for in September 2013 when Coláiste Bhaile Chláir opened its doors.
In an area where sport thrives, GAA, soccer and basketball were the three major exports before Connacht won the PRO12 title in 2015-'16.
The success of Pat Lam's side influenced a new generation to enter the game, and Pádraic S Ó Tuairisg granted the wish to bring rugby to Coláiste Bhaile Chláir.
"It's a massive area. The school was badly needed there for years. There is a massive catchment area with Tuam, Athenry, Galway City, Oranmore and there was nothing in between," says Ó Tuairisg.
"Claregalway is a growing hub of Galway City and it won't be long until they are nearly amalgamated into one.
"I get a lot of the guys from Corinthians, Monivea and Tuam. Rugby is definitely one of the emerging sports in the school.
"There is a solid interest there and a real positivity towards it from students and staff. It's definitely up there with the other sports."
Ó Tuairisg teaches Irish, History and CSPE in the school. The Inverin native started out on the rugby path with Corinthians, then played for NUIG, onto Wexford Wanderers and now back to Corinthians.
The 28-year-old helped bring about the first rugby team in the school last year and they won the Connacht Junior Development League, while they finished runners-up in the Junior Development Cup.
Cracking "It was a very successful year for our first year in it. We had a cracking bunch of guys in that team at U-16 level, and I was very happy with how they got on," says Ó Tuairisg.
"You have to bear in mind rugby is only a year old in the school and we are still only the baby sport in the school.
"We have a senior team fielded this year and we are only an emerging team this year. I have some guys there with absolutely no rugby background at all and they are getting stuck in and it's great to see."
With the help of the club and community rugby officers, Conor Galvin and Will Thornton, that Connacht Rugby provide, Ó Tuairisg is the head coach, while he is also aided by the hard work of Kevin McHugh, Aoife Cummins and Laura Gannon.
Read more: Tucker's U-17s up for challenge
"We tried to get a girls team involved last year. And going forward in the future when we are a bit more established as a team I want to see more of a girls team involved too," adds Ó Tuairisg.
It's a massive project but gradually things have taken shape and Ó Tuairisg has big plans for rugby in the school.
"We would usually go for one training session a week and have a match the same week. The guys are already training with their clubs, and with the school's football and hurling teams. We are more focused on their skills rather than piling on the fitness training or whatever goes with that.
"Corinthians have been absolutely brilliant for me too. We got the use of their facilities when I needed them. They have offered me coaches and given me gear. The pitches are there whenever I need them.
"Even when the main pitches are waterlogged I have the use of an astro-turf. We have a sand area at Corinthian Park and that allows us to train pretty much all year round which is great.
Advice "The support is there and even Connacht themselves, they have been very good sending CCROs out to help me with training and their advice which is invaluable."
With the massive appetite for sport in the area, it's only natural that there would be a crossover between sports in the school too. Training has been pinpointed to help the players grow on the field, without tiring them out off of it, and it takes a big collaborative effort from everyone involved in Claregalway.
"There would be a lot of guys who play GAA, basketball, soccer and rugby. They are trying to play all of the sports which is absolutely wonderful. You have guys from athletics coming in playing rugby. It's a great opportunity to play the game," adds Ó Tuairisg.
Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in Ireland today, and Connacht have seen a massive growth in support for the game, even before John Muldoon lifted the PRO12 trophy after a famous victory over Leinster at Murrayfield in May 2016.
Champions Cup nights changed everything for rugby in the province, and big interprovincial derby victories added to the growth of atmosphere at the Sportsground.
The College Road venue has become a hive of activity and it is regularly sold out, with temporary terracing put in place for their most recent game against Ulster before Christmas. All of this has fed its way down to the school and club scene too, and instead of talking about the latest soccer results from the Premier League, a lot of students at Coláiste Bhaile Chláir discuss Connacht's latest effort in the league or Europe.
Success on the field for the provincial team has changed everything at the grassroots, and people like Ó Tuairisg, hope they can continue that great work behind the scenes.
Coláiste Bhaile Chláir might only be competing for a second season, but they have big ambitions and their head coach is thrilled with how things have come together in such a short space of time.
"The Connacht players are definitely an inspiration to my players here, they would have to be, they are the local heroes," says Ó Tuairisg.
"The students would be talking about the matches at the weekends and particularly when Ireland are playing.
"They go to the Connacht games regularly and a few of our lads would play with the underage Connacht sides as well.
"It's all really exciting and who knows what can happen in 2018?"