Club Focus: Silverware on double paves way for next generation
Rugby success in a hurling stronghold is another sign of the growth of the game in County Galway, writes Daragh Small
Usually more well-known for their exploits on the hurling fields, Presentation College Athenry brought an army of supporters to the Sportsground on March 15, and they left with two trophies after a ground-breaking day for the school.
But this success has been brewing over the last number of years where the inner workings of a successful Monivea RFC helped to foster the talent ready to unleash itself on the rest of the province in 2018. The two men within the school tasked with putting the crucial finishing touches on it were Claude Geoghegan and Pat Hanrahan.
"It was huge for the school. The last time they played any kind of a final was back in 1999. Niall O'Brien was the captain then. He went on to represent the Ireland U-20s and played for Clontarf for a while, and was in France for a while," says Geoghegan.
"That was the last time the school competed in a final in provincial rugby in Connacht. I came to the school eight or nine years ago and rugby was just hanging on in the school.
"It was about three years ago Pádraic McGann of Monivea RFC gave me a call. And he said that there was a bunch of young lads coming into first year that he reckoned would be very competitive in time to come. A lot of our success the last day it is due to the feeder clubs like Corinthians and Galwegians but in particular Monivea. A lot of our players come from there and we play all of our home games there.
"Basically everything we want Monivea are usually there to supply it for us. They are great."
Pres Athenry secured the Connacht Junior Development Cup and the Connacht Senior Emerging Cup last week. It was a 30-5 win over St Jarlath's College from Tuam in the junior decider, and a narrow 31-22 success against Jesus & Mary, Enniscrone in the senior final.
It was a remarkable double success for the Co Galway school and reward for the efforts of the small, dedicated team of rugby coaches and their keen squad of players.
"When we started the year, at senior we would often be entering the developing cup, but I didn't know if we would have a squad. I was particularly concerned I wouldn't have a pack," adds Geoghegan. "But a few lads only took it up this year. There is a few very good players at senior level. Hugh Lane plays underage for Connacht. He has represented Ireland at U-18. He is on our senior squad.
"And then you would be going down to players who wouldn't have played at all until this year. You had a mixed bag with the seniors. It's great for a few of them that are leaving, that are particularly good, that they got the success before they leave.
occasion "We brought about 200 students on top of the 55 or so involved in the two squads to the Sportsground for the finals. There was up to 300 from the school there. It made for a great occasion, a great atmosphere.
"There was a huge amount of people from Monivea there as well. It's a great boost to them as well as us. All bar one of the starting 15 were Monivea players so it's a great boost for that club.
"It's a predominately GAA school but when you go looking for things now it makes a lot easier when you have the success to show for it already.
"Even in the last few days since you have a lot of young lads and girls wondering when they can start training for rugby. It has already made a big impact."
Pres Athenry retained their Connacht Colleges Senior A hurling crown when they defeated Gort Community School 2-19 to 1-8 in Ballinasloe on February 24. It was another title for a decorated hurling dynasty and Geoghegan is well aware that hurling will always be the number one sport in the school.
But he is determined to help rugby blossom further, and on the back of this tremendous success, Geoghegan feels there is real potential for the game to grow. It won't ever reach the heights of hurling in the school, but he'd be happy to see a gradual improvement.
"By and large there isn't that many hurlers involved in the senior rugby. The senior hurling is (under) 18-and-a-half while the rugby is U-19," adds Geoghegan. "There were a few guys who were on the senior squad last year who weren't eligible to play hurling this year. They got involved with us and it's great for them and they enjoyed it.
"They couldn't play GAA because they had gone over the age limit. But we picked up a few that way. In junior there is a bit more overlap with all sports. They are just a talented bunch of young lads who play a bit of everything."
Geoghegan is a native of Kilchreest just outside Loughrea where he too is steeped in the hurling heritage, in a county that has just won an All-Ireland.
He is secretary in the club, who won a club All-Ireland in 2013.
But the history teacher has his heart set on helping Pres Athenry become competitive at even higher levels in the coming years, and he is indebted to the wonderful work going on at Connacht Rugby too.
"I couldn't praise the Connacht Branch enough. For years, it's been people like Charlie Cooper and Conor Gavin, but particularly Lyndon Jones, the domestic games manager, he is very supportive of the growth of rugby within the school," says Geoghegan.
"The local CCRO then, Peter O'Hara, any time we are stuck for anything in terms of coaching resources he is always 100 per cent on board with that.
"The situation I was in. There's only two of us in the school that take part in it. So we rely on the support of the branch to help us and without them we would be in big trouble.
"Lyndon, Peter and Richard Doyle, who is the coordinator of school competitions, they are very understanding of our school. They are understanding in terms of fixtures.
"Since 2010 they have changed the structure of the competition where you have the emerging and development cups. They have been a massive success.
"The introduction of those cups has led to huge growth of rugby in the province.
"The schools committee, under Mick Loftus, the chairman, has been incredibly good. They allow a school like ourselves to compete at a level that is competitive for us. And allowing the kids to go out and enjoy the game and remain competitive.
"It's something we have been able to tap into and it has helped other schools in our situation too."