NUIG Academy hits high notes in Italy
As Connacht defended their line in the last few minutes of their Guinness Pro12 game against Zebre, 'The Fields of Athenry' could be heard clearly ringing out around the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma last Saturday.
The NUI Galway Rugby Academy U-16 and U-17 panels had travelled on mass to support and witness Connacht secure a bonus-point win that ensured they maintained their table-top position.
After their victory, the Connacht players headed directly over to where the NUIG travelling party of over 50 players coaches and parents were gathered to thank them for their support.
It made the long journey to the north to Italy all the more worthwhile and memorable for the Galway youngsters.
Five years ago a youth academy was established in Galway City, west of the Corrib, with the intention of feeding talented young players into the 140-year tradition of University rugby in Galway.
Since then the academy has been growing from strength to strength and is now playing development, cup and plate rugby week, in week out in the Connacht u-13 to u-17 age groups.
This year's u-16 team have reached their third consecutive Connacht development league final to be played in the coming weeks. Their U-14s have topped their league table this year and are into a provincial semi-final.
The combined u-16s and u-17s NUIG Academy panel finished off their four-day tour of the north of Italy with a game on the Sunday versus a local team, Noceto, one of the strongholds of Italian youth and senior rugby in the region.
There are already plans afoot to return next year to develop rugby and friendship ties with Noceto and no doubt give heartfelt and vocal support to Connacht in future campaigns on foreign soil.