Developing rugby in a traditional GAA base
Efforts of teachers and parents means that Coláiste Éinde are making progress with the oval ball, writes Daragh Small
Fresh off their first piece of silverware at junior level, when Coláiste Éinde captured the Connacht Development League recently, they will aim to make more of a mark in the Junior Development Cup this season.
Rugby is currently one of the most popular sports in the Galway city school, but with Gaelic football, hurling, soccer, basketball and rowing all to choose from, it can be difficult to put together a squad with depth in a co-educational secondary school.
It wasn't long ago when coach Alan Curran saw his players trail 'The Bish' 45-0 at half-time. And now he has a junior side who are up there with the best group of players in the province.
There are huge peaks and troughs, but Curran loves the challenge where he trains the various teams along with Michael O'Connell and NUIG recruit Myles Kennedy.
"We are a DEIS school so we have always been in the development cups," Curran said.
"About five years ago we won the Senior Development Cup which was a massive thing for us. It was the first time we won any sort of silverware in the school.
"We have had lots of help from parents. There are the two or three big schools in Galway city and we wouldn't be one of them. You have got 'The Jes', The Bish too and we have never been up to that level.
"We have always stuck to the development championship. I remember us playing against The Bish first years a few years ago and they were beating us 45-0 at half-time.
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"I remember going up to their coach saying, 'What are you doing here you are killing me.' But he was focused on his own team.
"He had 40 first years coming out training, 25 of them were club players. I told him I was lucky to get 10 out and three of them being club players. It comes and goes. It's been a difficult one."
Coláiste Éinde is the biggest school in the city and is located on Threadneedle Road in Salthill where there are almost 70 staff, and around 770 students.
"We play in our own grounds. We are lucky enough that we have our own pitch here. We have a Gaelic pitch, soccer pitch and a rugby pitch. We turned one of the GAA pitches to rugby eight or nine years ago," said Curran.
"But we are very lucky to have what we have. A lot of the schools have to play in The Swamp, The Bish and The Jes. At least we can play our home games here.
"In the last few weeks there have been so many games cancelled because of the pitches and we have had so many people coming to us looking to use our pitch."
Even though they claimed the Junior Development League in October, Coláiste Éinde is in basketball mode at the moment.
"There are three of us involved with rugby in the school. We have always been a GAA school but rugby has been here now for about 12 years. We do every sport, basketball, soccer, rowing, everything, so we are spread between all sports. It is harder for us to excel at one sport in particular," said Curran.
"But then there are times when we get a good run with a team and we are All-Ireland basketball champions at the moment.
"The U-16 boys won that and the girls are doing well there too. Basketball is popular because we are winning at the moment. The basketball clubs around the city are very strong.
"But GAA still rules the roost in here. You would still have a lot of the teachers who coach GAA, there's about five of them who coach football. And then there would be a few coaching hurling too.
"It can be a struggle to get the teachers involved with the rugby. But we are lucky there too.
"The one thing with rugby is there are a lot of parents involved. In the last few years we have had three or four parents who have given huge amounts of time to bring the school to where we are today.
"We still have a few parents who come in every week at lunch break in their own time not getting anything for it. Without them we couldn't sustain it because we don't have the skills ourselves and rugby is one of those games where you need someone with expertise. We would have to have given it up a long time ago otherwise."
But the with rugby season coming to its climax, Coláiste Éinde will look to retain their interest in the junior development cup.
Two of the Coláiste Éinde students, Edward Shekete and Rory McLeane, are part of the Connacht underage ranks and it's a massive inspiration to the rest of their classmates and colleagues.
And although Connacht claimed the PRO12 title in 2015-16, Curran says it's still only a matter of luck as to when the right batch of quality players come through together.
"It's short-term impact when you see Connacht winning. It really just depends on the guys who come into first year. Last year we had an amazing gang come in in first year," said Curran.
"They have come on to second year now and have won the junior development league for the first time in our history. We are very well placed now in the Junior Development Cup.
"Those who have come out and seen them say this is the strongest team we have had. We are nearly thinking about if they are good to push them up to the senior cup proper next or maybe two years down the line. We have that good of a group.
"A lot of them are second or third year so they could have another year with the junior team. But the hope is with any team is that we want to push them to the higher level.
"We have some exceptional players in our team and we want to push them as much as possible."
And with the boys succeeding on the rugby pitch, the girls have decided they want to experience that too. Curran says Coláiste Éinde have endeavoured to offer rugby across the board now.
"We have a bunch of girls who are entering a blitz at the end of February for the first time ever. So we are going to start a girls team," said Curran.
"They would be junior and U-15s and U-16s. It's great, they saw the lads having such fun. A few of them play club rugby with Corinthians and they asked me for a rugby team for the girls.
"Will Thornton from the Connacht branch, he popped out to see us. He helps with training and takes the girls out for training once a week until the blitz happens."