Big plans to expand in the home of Muldoon
A thriving youths and women's game has given Portumna RFC the foundation to push on to next level, writes Daragh Small
Portumna is fast becoming one of the hubs of junior rugby in Connacht, and their president Mark Scannell is aiming to build a massive dynasty during his tenure.
The current objective is to make the Town Tenants Portumna's new home, and backed by a grant, and some crucial fundraising, he hopes to have a facility available which can cater for all sports in the vicinity.
Between 2006 and 2014 the Portumna hurlers landed four All-Ireland club titles, but now rugby is starting to catch up with some of the more popular sports in the area.
Scannell said why the recent bump in numbers has come about, and reverberations have been felt all through the organisation.
"We are finally starting to get to a stage where we are getting kids of guys who played rugby. Normally we don't. We don't have a big history of rugby in the town so we don't have a lot of parents who played rugby," said Scannell.
"But now we are starting to see kids of parents who played, and they are bringing their friends and having great craic. It's a new wave of eager kids.
"There is not as much fear from the parents that played in the past as there is from parents who don't understand the game.
"They see the international matches where there is more danger with the bigger men involved. But if you are involved you realise that while it is a contact sport, it is just as dangerous as hurling or football."
Despite being home to Connacht captain John Muldoon, hurling is still king in Portumna with the likes of Joe and Ollie Canning some of their finer exports.
But since Connacht won the PRO12 in 2015-16, the club, which was established in 2002, has become the focal point for the sport in the area.
"Portumna is unusual in the rugby club sense in that we don't have a lot of the local hurlers playing with us but there are a lot of clubs close by like Killimor and Tommy Larkins. There are loads of other clubs that feed into us.
"There is no rugby club within 20 miles of us in any direction. We have a big catchment. But the big problem for us is that we are in a major hurling stronghold."
It's not only the boys' and men's game that are booming.
The Womens' Rugby World Cup took place in Ireland earlier this year and it has seen participation levels increase across the club scene on the island.
"We have one particular group of girls that have done really well at underage level," added Scannell.
"There is a great bunch of about 17 or 18 in the squad. There is always a massive turnout rate. There is a massively tight group and they are eager to learn. Last year they were playing U-15 and they are improving," said Scannell.
"We are very eager to see women's rugby do well in the club. The camogie season around here might be eight, 10 or 12 weeks tops. But other than that there is no other team sport for girls around here."
But before Portumna move on to the next level, Scannell wants the various different age groups to have the best possible facilities available to them.
Central to that is the new ground they are developing, but he says it will take a lot of fundraising to cover the cost. He has urged the local community and businesses to come out in support.
"We are going to put our own savings with the grant and see where it gets us. It's a big project. In our off-season we would welcome any other club to use our facilities," said Scannell.
"We are not just a rugby club, we are part of the community. We are keen to share. There is no point in fighting about it.
"It's all about getting town facilities rather than just rugby facilities. It's behind the school as well so we would be offering our facilities to them too.
"There will be a lot of fundraising coming on the back of this.
"It's great that we got some funding but we need more and we are going to try and get that money together to get the right facilities. There will be fundraising down the line."
The Portumna senior team have been flourishing in recent seasons since they were promoted from the Connacht J2 League.
They consolidated in J1C before pushing for higher honours under player-coach Michael Harding (28) this term, and they will only get better in time to come.
It's all about putting the time and effort in the underage ranks to unearth more talent and bring them into the senior set-up in time.
Muldoon is a massive inspiration to everyone in the club, but especially the younger players starting out in the game and Scannell says the Connacht captain is always willing to help out.
"John is brilliant for us, anything we ask him to do he comes out and helps.
"We try not to ask him too much. Recently we had the U-10s playing at the Sportsground and he hung around after and brought out Steve Crosbie too," said Scannell.
"He is always great for us. We don't use him enough, and he would always facilitate it but we don't like asking him too often. Saying all that he is very much the local hero here."