Club Focus: New pitch will give Muldoon's home town a huge boost
Hurling is main sport in south-east Galway town but Daragh Small hears of big plans
You don't have to be from Portumna to play rugby with Portumna RFC, all you need is the desire to play the game.
That's the tagline the club have always stood by and as they look to make history in 2019 it's exciting times for the south-east Galway club.
Portumna is home to the only Connacht captain to lift silverware and while John Muldoon is currently coaching in Bristol, his hometown club are plotting for the future.
The hard work of club president Mark Scannell and his excellent committee have helped to break new ground after 10 years of trying.
Portumna RFC will begin work on a new pitch after a huge effort from everyone in the community.
"We used to play in the school pitch in the first year and since then we have been renting a pitch off a farmer, a farmer's field," said Scannell.
"In January we will be breaking ground on a new pitch. We have secured a lease on land. We have got €65,000 off the capital sports fund in there. We are topping that up to put down a pitch. It's all guns blazing then for fundraising.
"It's right behind the community school pitches but you access it a different way. It's old town tenants land which would have been common way back when, when one house had one cow and they needed somewhere to graze your cattle.
"It's being shared now. There are still a few farmers on it and some is being put to the rugby club. There are other plans in the future for sporting developments down there.
"We have been renting rolling one-year leases. There is no security with them at all. The field was sold, the new farmer luckily enough let us continue on the condition that we were trying to get out of it.
"We have been trying to fundraise for pitch development for a long time. With planning permission and all, it's grand to get the money to back it. But we felt we were going to lads talking about pitch development fundraising and they were asking: where's the pitch?
"All of a sudden you have something to see and we will have a home to hang our hat on. It's like renting a house, you don't want to drive a nail in the wall, it's not your wall.
"Now we will be able to drive on and where it is it's a lot more visible as well, in that it's right beside a school but the entrance to it will be off the main road.
"There will be signage on the main road. It will be a lot more visible and a much better spot. There is plenty of space to grow. There is great scope for sporting developments to go on beside it. It could be great."
Scannell is a native of Ballinasloe but he has been living in Portumna for the last 15 years.
He began playing rugby at U-11 level in the early 1980s with Ballinasloe. After that he featured for Garbally, Connacht Schools, St Mary's College in Dublin at U-19 and Buccaneers' second string. When he relocated it was just one year after Portumna had reformed as a club.
"They were only after having started out in 2002. There were a few lads chatting in a pub who decided it would be a good idea to try it," said Scannell.
"They pulled in a lot of lads from around the place. They fairly dragged them in from around the place but they reached the Ard na Cregg final in their first year.
"They struggled after that and bounced up and down the divisions. It was just adult up until 2009 when we started the minis section."
The Portumna hurlers had won their first All-Ireland title in 2006, they were victorious at Croke Park on St Patrick's Day again in '08, '09 and '14.
They haven't represented Galway and Connacht on the national stage since then but hurling remains the big sport in the town, nevertheless rugby still has its place.
"It's hurling heartland and you are fighting against the tide," said Scannell. "Every kid that is growing up around here grows up with a hurl in their hands. While there is no hatred of rugby or anything like that it's just the love of hurling.
"There was a more of a crossover when they weren't winning because when they were winning they were going to St Patrick's Day. They played it when they could but when they were winning All-Irelands they were concentrating on the hurling.
"The thing about Portumna is we have a massive catchment, we have no rugby clubs within 20 miles of us. You have Birr, Loughrea, Ballinasloe, Nenagh, there is a big catchment so a lot of players are from Kilimor and around the place as opposed to just the Portuma parish."
Scannell is a financial adviser and he also coaches soccer in the town.
Having come into the committee just before he helped create the minis section he has a tough job on his hands to help make that grow.
"Minis is going well, you have the guts of 100 kids down there on a good Sunday morning," said Scannell.
"But up to U-12 you go and you play blitzes and there are no leagues or anything else. They match off, if you have 10 and I have 10 then you work with that, or 12-a-side or two sevens or whatever. Then when you get out of that it's youths and you are trying to play with 15-a-side.
"If you don't have that then you just fold. We are finding it hard to get the sufficient numbers. You need the guts of 25 at any given age-group to even think about giving it a go. And it's at that stage when kids start to go 'I will stick with hurling or soccer or rugby'.
"But the girls are going really good. The school is starting to train a bit and there is a bit of interest there which hasn't happened in a while. The kids there seem keen so you don't know what will come from that."
Coming Soon: Independent.ie's new GAA newsletter. Sign up here