Oughterard RFC: From side of a hill to heights of ambition
Days of playing second fiddle - and rustic facilities - are in the past as Galway outfit starts to climb ranks, writes Ciarán McGreal
Oughterard RFC have come a long way from their humble beginnings back in 2004 and they now boast a thriving underage section and vibrant adult teams.
The club cater for children as young as seven and also have an active veterans' team for over 35s.
The town of Oughterard is 26km outside of Galway city and the desire of children from the town to play rugby led to the club being born.
"There was a small group that got together originally in Oughterard and decided there was a need for rugby to be provided," explains current president Norman Deacy.
"There were a lot of young lads around the town who wanted to give it a go but they were a bit far away from Galway city."
The club's facilities were far from glamorous in the early days. Players trained on a field on the side of a hill, negotiating rocks sticking out of the ground during sessions.
These conditions would have put most people off but the players kept coming back as their desire to play rugby outweighed the modest facilities.
"We used to have to mark out the rocks on a Saturday morning so the kids wouldn't fall on them!" remarks Deacy.
"It was as basic as you can imagine but the kids kept coming and they enjoyed it. Through hard work by the likes of Ger Roche and Paul Fogarty, who spent the time coaching the kids initially, it got to the stage where there was a need for more facilities.
"Pat Higgins, the first president of the club, was the one who allowed us to use the field and then he gave us more of the field to develop. Thanks to him, we decided we'd embark on getting the pitch together.
"Through the help of various members of the club who have different talents with machines and green-keepers from the golf club, fellas who knew what they were doing, we got the pitch built."
The building of the full-sized pitch was a key moment for the club in catering for their growing player pool. In order to mark the opening of the pitch, a match was organised with Galwegians.
"My father was president of the IRFU at one stage and he was a Galwegians man but he had a great affiliation with Oughterard because my two sons were playing mini rugby with the club," says Deacy.
"He used to come out and watch them but he died in 2009. When we were having the opening of the pitch, myself and Ger Roche were asked to plan a day for it.
"My family put up a trophy called the Bobby Deacy Memorial and we said we'd have a match with Galwegians to mark the occasion because my father was only ever a member of the two clubs."
It transpired to be a veterans match for over 35s.
"We got Eric Elwood out of retirement and various people like that to play for Galwegians," continues Deacy.
"Our own international in Oughterard, Jack Clarke, came out of retirement to play. We had three past presidents of the IRFU in attendance and the full committee of the Connacht Branch were there for the game. It was a great day out."
The club's senior side compete in the Connacht J2 league and are unbeaten in their four games to date. Victories over Connemara, Corinthians, Tuam and Galwegians mean Aidan O'Flynn's charges have a 100pc record.
"Aidan has driven the first team since its inception," says Deacy. "He was helped along the way by Jack Clarke for many years. Jack actually played up until last season amazingly enough at 49 years of age! He hung up his boots this year. But Aidan O'Flynn drove it on."
Clarke played for Ireland in the early 1990s, winning six caps on the wing while he was part of the squad for the 1991 World Cup.
Given Oughterard's successful underage section, the club will be hopeful that some of their players can follow in Clarke's footsteps and represent Ireland at the highest level.
The club has over 250 underage players spread across its minis and youth teams. The minis section runs from U-7s to U-12s and caters for both boys and girls. The youth section comprises an U-13 team, an U-15 side fielded in partnership with Connemara as well as U-16 and U-17 teams.
Numbers continue to grow and the promotion of the sport in the local secondary school means rugby is to the fore in the town.
"It seems to be growing organically in that there are more and more kids coming," says Deacy.
"We have a very good guy called Matt Henderson and he's heavily involved with the school, St Paul's. There's a guy in the school called Ray O'Neill and between the two of them they're getting schools teams together.
"Last year they won the first piece of silverware for St Paul's."
The club's veterans' team have been on the go for over ten years and the team regularly go on tours abroad to England, Italy and Spain. One notable trip was to Toulouse, which Deacy recalls.
"In fairness to Trevor Brennan, Ger Roche got in touch with him before we went and he said he'd organise everything," he says.
"We didn't know him but he organised the whole weekend for us. We played matches and he organised the hotel for us and he got tickets to the Toulouse game for us. It was fantastic."
Deacy is pleased with the club's current standing and feels the development of its underage players will lead to success down the line.
"I do see big things for the first team going forward," he says. "In another two or three years when the current underage guys get to play adult rugby, I see the conveyor belt happening and they should start moving up the divisions."
Address: Clifden Road, Oughterard, Co Galway
President: Norman Deacy
Head coach: Aidan O'Flynn