Sunday 8 December 2019

Ballinrobe RFC have proud tradition, a proud history

Pat Lam and the two kids (Ballinrobe's Oisín & Cian...)
Pat Lam and the two kids (Ballinrobe's Oisín & Cian...)

July 2014 saw Ballinrobe RFC move back to the club's traditional home in The Green, in the centre of the south Mayo town. For many years, the club played in The Racecourse, about a mile from town, and now, thanks to a lot of hard work from a lot of people, the return to the club's spiritual home has reached fruition.

Like many rural west of Ireland clubs, across many sporting codes, not just rugby, Ballinrobe RFC has seen a lot of tough times. Fund-raising is a constant battle, as is the ongoing threat of emigration as many young players struggle to find work.

But like most other clubs, a core group of people, working extremely hard together, are doing what seems like the impossible at times to propel the club forward in the right spirit.

The club was originally founded back in the 1940s - with the first silverware coming in the form of a league title in 1944. Like many clubs, a period of dissolution was inevitable, but thanks to a group of local rugby-minded businessmen, including Martin Jennings, Roddy Moran, Pat Malone, Gerry Hughes and Patsy Murphy (to name but a few), the club was re-formed in the early 1970s and has been a strong feature of the local community ever since.

The club's proudest moments came in the early 1990s when a formidable group of men powered to victory in the Connacht Junior Cup on two occasions - it was two years of dominance in Connacht's blue riband event. Back-to-back Junior Cup titles firmly positioned them in the competition's storied history. The Ballinrobe cup-winning side are known and revered throughout the province to this day.

That 1991 team remains the last Mayo team to lift the Connacht Junior Cup. An amazing statistic when you consider the quality efforts over the years from many other Mayo clubs.

That statistic alone illustrates the high level of difficulty in securing the title. To put two titles back to back is quite simply a monumental achievement.

The South Mayo club lies fairly "boxed in" between clubs such as Westport, Castlebar and Corrib and are extremely proud to draw on towns and villages from all over the south Mayo and north Galway area - from Ballintubber in the north to the villages of Cross and Cong in the south and from all shores of Loughs Mask and Corrib, such as Tourmakeady and Clonbur.

This widespread geographical family is something the club is extremely proud of as townland and even county borders are disbanded as players come together in the black and white jersey in pursuit of success.

The club, like many, went through a "transitional" phase recently and suffered relegation to Division 1C but bounced back up to 1B in emphatic style last year.

This year's club captain is Peter Cosgrove, who is also very well-known in Mayo GAA circles as he plies his trade as a well-respected full-back in both codes. The team is managed by former players Seamus O'Toole and David Nestor as they strive to achieve promotion for the second year in succession.

The work being done at underage in recent years is really starting to bear fruit now for the senior team, as players like Micheal Walsh, Mark Nalty, Peter Cosgrove, Jack Winters and John Costello are amongst a new group of players carrying the flag forward for a new-look Ballinrobe team as many of the "old guard" are now starting to enjoy the comforts of retirement.

The club has fielded at almost all underage age-groups in recent years, experiencing success in many grades with last year's U-17 team, led by Cillian Walsh, the most recent to thrill and excite supporters as they stormed to success in the U-17 league final against Connemara - in what will live long in the memory as one of the most exciting games ever witnessed involving the club.

Thankfully, the club now boasts huge numbers at the mini-rugby level - as well as most other underage grades.

The minis train in The Green on a Saturday morning and other underage teams train during the week. Keep an eye on the club's facebook page for training times etc as the new season gets under way.

The move back to the green has seen a huge increase in local interest. The crowds at home games have increased thanks to the central location and there is, in general, a great buzz around the whole club.

The recent visit of Pat Lam and the Connacht senior team for the training day was another step forward in promoting the club and the wonderful facilities with the fantastic quality of the playing surface, in particular, getting huge compliments from the Connacht coach and his players.

The club have held some novel fundraisers in recent times in an effort to pay the bills but also contribute towards local charities. The most recent collaboration with the local soccer and GAA clubs saw 20 club members undertake Mission Slimpossible - a charity weight loss competition in association with Motivation Weight Management which raised funds for the local charity, Friends of Grace.

This season is set to be a huge challenge - but one the club are really looking forward to, both on and off the field, as they set about emulating last season's achievements.

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