Hard work paying off for thriving Galway club
Club Focus - Oughterard RFC - Oughterard are providing a progressive rugby outpost for the game's supporters in north-west Galway, writes Daragh Small
With plans afoot to construct new pitches in the middle of the village, Oughterard RFC is on the verge of another breakthrough as they battle for their place at the top table in Connacht rugby.
Their president Norman Deacy is determined to keep the progress up while their membership grows in line with their achievements on the field.
Deacy is a Galway native and spent some memorable years in Oughterard. And now his sons Robert and James play for the team.
"Robert is the eldest and he plays for the U-18s, James is with the U-17s," says Deacy.
"My grandparents lived in Oughterard most of their lives. We had moved into the city. But I had actually lived in Oughterard for ten years myself.
"That's how I ended up being involved in the club here. They asked me to give a hand. I have moved back towards the city now but the lads still wanted to play their Youths rugby with Oughterard so we come out every weekend."
Deacy is a son of the late former IRFU president Bobby Deacy. The Deacy family are steeped in rugby and Galwegians RFC.
After he started his career with Galwegians, Norman Deacy went to boarding school in Newbridge, the same school where Geordan Murphy, Bernard Jackman and Jamie Heaslip all once attended.
Deacy returned to Galway before a stint with Wanderers, and then he finished out his rugby career with Galwegians again.
He has been president of Oughterard RFC since 2012, and watched the club grow from their humble beginnings in 2004, to boasting a membership of around 250 today.
"There was a lot of young lads around who wanted to play a bit of rugby but it was too far from Galway city to get in and play," says Deacy.
"They founded this club and started getting mini rugby going. They had one Youths team going at the time. And it just progressed after that and just got bigger and bigger.
"After a few years they got a J2 team together and there was also a veterans' team. That veterans' team was a catalyst because they went on tour every year. They got a lot of people involved in the club that wouldn't have been involved before. That built up for a good few years and when we got to 2013, it really started to come through then with the Youths rugby.
"We had an U-14 team that finished up as U-18.5 this year. They have been to finals each year and they have built up a big squad. Leading on from that there is success at U-17.
"It has built up into big playing numbers now and there is a flow coming through."
When the club was originally formed it was the draw of having rugby in the vicinity for the first time that helped it grow.
Big city clubs like Galwegians and Corinthians continued to get numbers but now there was an alternative for the people of north-west county Galway.
"The big catchment areas are probably Oughterard, Moycullen and Roscahill," says Deacy. "There is a lot of kids from city clubs who live in this side of Galway who are actually now coming to Oughterard to play.
"It's easier to get to and there is a good atmosphere here. A lot of it is about the enjoyment of the game. There is no pressure on the guys because we are not one of the big super clubs.
"We are not expecting to win trophies but we are still getting to finals and challenging the big teams."
Connemara is another club on the opposite side of the divide that could potentially entice players away from Oughterard. But there is a real sense that this club could be onto something special.
With new facilities on the way it's another key factor in the growth of rugby, in an area where GAA and other sports are usually given precedence.
"There would be a big local GAA club here. Then in Roscahill, which is the next village, there is a big GAA club there. Kevin Walsh, the Galway football manager, would be from the Killannin club there," says Deacy.
"A lot of the kids would be playing the same sports. An awful lot of our teams would be made up of kids who play for the Oughterard and Killannin GAA clubs.
"Boxing would be very big out here too. Kieran Molloy just won the national championships there recently, he is going for the Olympics. He is a local boy and trained in Oughterard Boxing Club.
"It was difficult over the years to try and build rugby. But the profile of professional rugby, the way Ireland and the provinces have gone has obviously helped the progression of it.
"The guys involved in the club itself have pushed it on from there. It took an awful lot of hard work to get the club to where it is now. We have probably got a playing base of 250 players.
"It's a pretty big membership and we have just recently secured lands in the village to try and develop pitches. We are one pitch at the moment which we rent off a local. We have now almost secured the lands for ourselves to go and develop the club properly. It should bring it to the next stage. Facilities were always going to be our next big challenge.
"We are getting there with that now. We will be able to develop them and that should bring us on to the next level."
Now all that's left is for silverware to head in their direction. But that seems to be just around the corner too.
"I was coaching the U-18.5 this year. And the first team coach was talking about those guys coming through now. The first team wanted to push on and move up the divisions and get better and bigger squads," says Deacy. "We are getting there now. The next two or three years are crucial. We have players coming through to play for the first team and U-20s.
"That's where the big challenge is, to get them through. We should have the pipeline in place then."