Saturday 21 September 2019

Blown away by hunger as girls don the black

Amazing uptake in women's rugby in Connemara hints at a bright future for the game out west.

Hands Up! Connemara girls battle for lineoput ball in the air.
Hands Up! Connemara girls battle for lineoput ball in the air.

Daragh Small

Nestled in the picturesque surrounds of the Monastery Field in Connemara, the Connemara Blacks definitely have one of the most stunning home grounds in all of club rugby on this island.

Up until now the club had a decorated history in the underage boys' and men's ranks but now the girls are looking to follow suit and show their talents.

Connemara U-13s claim possession during the Connacht Rugby blitz at Tuam RFC.
Connemara U-13s claim possession during the Connacht Rugby blitz at Tuam RFC.

Malachy Gorham is the mastermind behind the unprecedented growth of the women's game in this part of the country and he sees a bright future for a fledgling project.

"Our geographical situation is quite special in the sense of where we are at and the ruggedness of the area we live in, and the hardship of the area," said Gorham.

"It's not an easy part of the country to make a living in. But anyone who ever had an affiliation with any of the clubs, especially the rugby club, no matter what part of the world they move to they keep that link.

"People in the farthest places in the world are still keeping in touch. I have got messages from people all over the world who I might not have spoken to in 15 or 20 years wishing us well and the girls' side of the club is only getting better.

Connemara girls going through their moves at Monday night training, Monastery Field, Clifden.
Connemara girls going through their moves at Monday night training, Monastery Field, Clifden.

"The support of the community and the support of the Connemara club and community school has been brilliant. Even two of the teachers in the school, Ms Monica Seery and Ms Clodagh Walsh, are coming to training with us to keep the link with the school for when their school competitions are on later in the year.


"The girls will be able to represent the school and club. All of the community and local businesses we have approached for sponsorship have been incredible too."

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Gorham was born and grew up in Clifden, and now he resides just outside the town where he hopes to foster his love for the game of rugby among the boys and girls in the area.

He played with the Connemara Blacks along with his two brothers, and after spending time in charge of the underage boys for the last few years, Gorham ended up with the girls too after a chance meeting with Ellen Nee.

"I was approached in June by Ellen at a Gaelic football blitz with the kids. She asked me originally about schools rugby, and the potential about getting a team going," said Gorham.

"It was only two days later when I got a phone call from Breda Coneys, she is involved with the Connemara Rugby Club committee, she asked me about doing girls rugby for the club.

"They didn't even know each other and I put them in touch. The three of us had a meeting and we decided to go and meet Wendy Hickey from the Connacht Branch and she advised us to go through the club for a start.

"Later in the year schools rugby would be available to play then. That was four weeks ago we started on a Monday evening. We were advised then there was an U-18 and U-15 group we should go for."

Armed with that advice Connemara decided to give the women's game a shot in the club. But what transpired, even the most positive of fortune tellers could not have predicted.

According to Gorham the locals have been stunned by the immediate take-up of the game in the area and by the love of the game they are seeing.

"There wasn't much in the area for the girls. On the first night we had 36 turn up between U-15 and U-18. We thought that was fantastic and were blown over.

"We got a lot of positive feedback and the following week we had 41 and over the last two training sessions we had 51 turn up.

"Last Saturday week we travelled for a friendly match with Westport. We brought an U-15 and U-18 team and Westport were fantastic to us. They are such a well-established club at girls' level. They gave us a great insight for what we can be expecting down the line too.

"It's totally new for me and the other coaches in terms of what's to expect. On Saturday with the numbers we had, it turned out we had 14 girls who could play U-13 rugby as well.

"So there was an U-13 blitz in Tuam last Saturday and I brought a group of girls down there and they had a fantastic day below there too. That was organised by the Connacht Branch. It has snowballed from there. Everything I have heard so far has been so positive. It has taken us all by surprise."

Connemara have been thrilled by the backers they have received on the ground, with plenty of local businesses looking to lend a helping hand to get the women's game up and running.

Clifden Tool Hire, Cantec, Walsh's Bakery, O'Dowd's Roundstone, Des Moran Butchers, Off the Square Restaurant, Gannon Sports, Sweeney Oil, Marconi Restaurant, Topaz, Flo Gas and Kingstown Ponies have aided in the venture.

Tomorrow, for the first time, the Connemara All Black girls will host the Connacht development U-15 blitz at 11am in the Monastery Field and Gorham is looking forward to another chance to see the game flourish.

"It is still very tough to get numbers with other sports in the direct vicinity. For different reasons the players are moving away between college and work and everything," said Gorham.

"You have the GAA and rugby codes pulling out of the same small group of players all of the time. At the back end of the rugby season there is overlap between the Gaelic and the rugby.

"You will always have a number of players that are caught between both codes. It is hard to get and maintain numbers but we do our best and it's certainly working out on the girls' side of things.

"And that is what we are trying to do at minis and youth level, to build back up the culture at youth level. Before there wasn't as many alternatives for children.

"The soccer has started up, and West Coast United run a great club. There is great facilities for the underage people now. There are all different activities between equine and music as well.

"All of those things have developed in the last ten or 15 years in the area and that has given people options and hopefully the Connemara Blacks is one everyone will look at."

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