Connemara RFC - Outpost is punching above its weight
Connemara RFC is a remarkable club not only for its location in one of Europe's most beautiful areas but for its continued success against the odds.
Relatively speaking, Connemara RFC is a club in its infancy, and it has neither the facilities nor the population in its catchment areas of its rivals.
Upon the introduction of the free education scheme in September 1967, the local Franciscan Brothers Secondary School was populated by 150 boys from north-west Connemara.
When asked what sport the school would compete in competitively, the students voted overwhelmingly to play rugby. Despite the majority of the players never having played rugby, they acclimatised to the oval ball game quickly, and in December 1972 they won the Connacht Junior League.
A few months later, the same team, coached by Br Vivian Cotter, completed the league and cup double. In 1972, the U-17s, under the tutelage of Connemara RFC's current president Matt O'Sullivan, won the Connacht League.
The school went on to claim the 1975 Connacht Senior Cup for the first and only time.
Connemara RFC was formed on Thursday February 1, 1973. The club took a nickname after a variety of trout and salmon fishing fly, the Connemara Black. Similar to the school team's earlier successes, it didn't take the Blacks long to grace Connacht finals, losing the 1975 Junior Cup decider 4-3 to Westport.
From then on, Connemara would go on to establish itself as one of the foremost clubs in the province. The club won the Connacht Junior Division 2 League in 1990 and, following promotion to Division 1, went on to win eight Connacht Junior Division 1 League and three Connacht Junior Cup titles.
In 2001 Connemara were promoted to the All-Ireland League via the play-offs. The Blacks defeated Greystones in the semi-final and set up a final date with Dublin University (Trinity). The clash between Connemara and Dublin University was likened to David v Goliath.
Trinity is the oldest club in Ireland with a rich history of producing Irish internationals and Connemara, the youngest club in the country at the time, was a relative pauper.
On April 28, 2002 Connemara duly made history in Lansdowne Road as they became the first and only Connacht side to win an All-Ireland Senior Trophy. Furthermore, in 2003, Connemara won the Connacht Senior Cup.
The formation of mini rugby in the club in 1999 and youth rugby in 2002 contributed greatly to the development of younger players and has been very successful in producing a continuity of talent.
Indeed Connemara has seen five of its locally produced players represent Ireland at underage level. Those players, Dónal Nee, Paddy O'Toole, John O'Brien, Tiernan O'Halloran (currently with Connacht) and Oisín Heffernan, may have represented different clubs but their rugby educations were forged on the Monastery Field turf.
Connemara RFC was greatly honoured in 2012 when Aidan O'Halloran, the club chairman, was elected president of the Connacht Branch IRFU.
Following relegation from the All-Ireland League in 2013, the Blacks found life back in the Connacht Junior League difficult, having lost many players - like other rural clubs - due to the economic downturn.
The young team, however, ended the season safe in the J1A League and with two trophies, the Cawley Cup & the Connacht Plate.
This season the J1A team and J2 team are well placed in their respective leagues. The U-14, U-16 and U-18 teams are competing well in their leagues and the mini rugby is prospering.
The club is very appreciative of the many highly qualified volunteers who occupy coaching positions at the various levels.
Currently, the club is endeavouring to raise funds to purchase ten acres of land adjacent to the Monastery Field. The development of additional pitches will reduce the burden on the Club's current pitch. The club has run several initiatives to raise the requisite money and, thanks to the hard work of several volunteers, is well on track to purchase the land.
In this time of economic uncertainty, Connemara RFC is very grateful to its numerous sponsors for their continued support.
The Club runs a weekly Lotto in various premises in the area and is very appreciative of the contribution given by the local community.
A golf 'Am-Am' is organized annually at Connemara Golf Club which helps greatly with much-needed income.
The Club also hosts the 'Connemara 7s Tournament' on the first weekend in July - first played in Wood's Field (now Clifden Glen) in the 1970s and was revived in 2011. The tournament attracts teams from around the country and officiating provided by the Connacht Branch Referees Association is invaluable.
Connemara even having a rugby club is a commendable feat. The club's catchment area in north west Connemara is one of the sparsest regions in Western Europe in terms of population.
Despite such a disadvantage, Connemara's history has been inundated with success on the pitch and, given the age and quality of the current incumbents of the famous Black jersey, more success could well be on its way to Ireland's rugby outpost.
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