Everyone is welcome to get a taste of the game
Corinthians RFC are leading the way with Disability Rugby plan as appetite for the game increases, writes Daragh Small
Disability Rugby is the latest initiative being rolled across Ireland in order to boost involvement in the sport and foster the wonderful ethics of the game into a new generation that were not have been able to access it in the past.
And in Connacht there is one club with one man in particular determined to give everyone the same rights and chances at playing the sport he loves.
Derek Ryan is a Galway Corinthians clubman through and through, and he was desperate to afford his 11-year-old son the same opportunities in life that he got as a young active teenager.
The obvious route was rugby, and last Easter, with the help of a very willing club and the Connacht branch, Corinthians spearheaded the charge for Disability Rugby in the province.
"I played for Corinthians years ago and I just want to bring my son out and allow him to experience what I experienced back then.
"He isn't able to play hurling or Gaelic football because he wouldn't have that skill, but in rugby it's just pick and go," says Ryan. "I asked the guys in Corinthians could I bring him out, and the club were brilliant, they said bring him out and they will fit him in. The only problem was he wasn't able to get the ball so I said: 'Can I start up something else for him?'
"Mark Deegan and the club were all for it. The Connacht Branch got involved and Lyndon Jones rang me up and said that they would back us. They just wanted to know what we needed and made everything available. Conor Galvin gave me a call too, he's one of the development officers.
"We put a note out to all of the disability groups, if there was anyone who wanted to play tag rugby in Corinthians, we wanted them to come along. And then when the day came kids arrived from everywhere.
"There is nothing for children like that. They just want a chance to play and have a bit of fun."
Corinthians are a massive club, operating in Division 2A of the Ulster Bank League, and boosting a vast underage system that regularly contributes to the Connacht Rugby ranks.
The Cloonacauneen outfit was founded in 1932/'33, won their first Connacht Senior Cup in their inaugural year, and have gone on to claim silverware right across the spectrum of Irish rugby.
Ryan (49) is an estate agent who lives in Salthill but played at Corinthian Park on the Tuam Road between U-20 and senior level in the past.
For parents of a child with a disability, it can be a daunting step to allow them to take the plunge into team sports, but Derek admits it has been a dream experience dealing with Corinthians and Connacht Rugby.
"Corinthians was always my club. It's like a big community out there. Every time I proposed Disability Rugby to the club they always said: 'What can we do to help?'," he says enthusiastically.
"There was never a barrier put in the way. 'Where do you want to train the team, you can have any pitch you want, is there anything else we can do,' it was always them trying to help you.
"It's a great community club and they will invite anybody in. If anybody wants their kid to join, just come out. There is no barrier to anybody, just come out and join up.
"Training is at 10am every Saturday morning. Just bring the child along, if they don't like it they don't have to come again. Sometimes children will just come out and watch it for a while and then they join in when they get comfortable.
"We train on Saturdays because all of the underage teams play there then. We train alongside everybody else. There can be up to ten teams playing out there every time and everyone feels included."
The only rule is that when parents bring along their child, they stay too and get involved. But now Ryan, who is the main coach in charge, says he wants Disability Rugby to get bigger and better - the team are seeking sponsorship - and he is putting plans in place for them to grow.
"We do between U-8 to U-15 and there is just one group at the moment but that keeps growing in size," says Ryan.
"We want to get to a point where we get senior teams involved too and then we can start splitting up the groups and it can grow from there."
The Connacht Branch has been a huge supporter of Ryan's work and they have aided his cause along with Corinthians.
Connacht winger Cian Kelleher and tighthead prop Conor Carey were two esteemed guests who helped out with the Disability Rugby training last year while strength and conditioning coach Johnny O'Connor has also offered his skills and expertise.
"Johnny O'Connor said he will come out and just show the children how to run and hold themselves on the pitch. But it's great in Corinthians because people are always so willing to help us out.
"Connacht sent down a couple of their players and the club bring down some of their more senior members too, it's great and inspiring for the youngsters."
In January, 2015, the IRFU formed a Disability Sub-Committee to implement the IRFU Disability Programme, and now it has found its way into Connacht thanks to the hard work and foresight of people like Ryan.
"I am thrilled with it. The whole point of playing is that we are just another team playing rugby and there's no discrimination," says Ryan.
"The next step is playing games so there is an actual point to training. It's not training for the sake of training. We are just another team out there then.
"We hope to be playing games against other teams in the next couple months and it's not just rugby for the sake of turning up on Saturday, training and everyone then goes home then.
"We want to play games against other teams and we are being invited to play games up the country, Cill Dara, Barnhall and Seapoint are some of the teams. Either we will go to them or they will come to us."