Pioneering Bulls lead the charge for inclusive rugby
Westport RFC, one of the oldest clubs in Connacht, was founded in 1925 and this year 'The Bulls' celebrate their 90th anniversary.
The club originally held its fixtures at the Bog Gate pitch in the Demesne, Westport before moving to its current location at Carrowholly in 1984, where two pitches and a clubhouse were developed.
There is a great tradition of rugby in Westport and the club has continuously challenged for honours at junior level.
The club caters for players not only from Westport but also from its broad surrounding areas including Achill, Louisburgh, Newport and Inishturk. New members are always welcome at all age groups.
Club president Declan Dever says: "We have always been lucky to have great members, coaches and volunteers who give many hours of their time to ensure the continued successful running of the club.
"Many of the people currently involved with the club are second or third generation club members and there is a real family atmosphere around the place. The clubhouse is a great place to be on a Sunday after a match and even better after a win."
The club was a pioneer in developing ladies' rugby in the province. The first ladies teams were set up in 2010 and there has been an U-15s and an U-18s team each of the following five years.
The girls have been extremely successful, recently winning the Connacht U-18 Cup & League, the Leinster Blitz and the Biddy Liddy Cup. Since the inception of the U-18s inter-pros, Westport girls have annually made up the majority of the Connacht team.
"Much credit has to go to Dermott Ruddy who was club president at the time of the establishment of the ladies' teams. He worked hard to set up the ladies' teams and still helps out with the coaching today. It's great to now see both the men's and ladies' teams proudly wearing the Westport jersey," Dever adds.
The club are very proud of their underage system. Over 140 minis, from U-7s to U-12s, and 100 youths, from U-13s to U-19s, are coached weekly at the club.
The majority of the current first-team players have been developed through the youth system and this has been the case for a number of years.
Westport has had many players who have gone on to represent Connacht and Ireland at various age levels, Jamie Dever and Dwayne Corcoran being the latest.
The young talent will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of the late Charlie Lydon, the club's sole full Irish international cap.
In recent years the club has embarked on an ambitious development plan to modernise its playing facilities, changing rooms and the clubhouse.
The first part of the development plan was executed in 2003 when the club completed a €100,000 pitch improvement that developed an all-weather pitch that has held up to the challenging conditions on the west coast of Ireland.
The sideline of the club's main pitch was also recently developed and a stand for supporters was installed. The club installed a new dressing-room this year which included a gym - Connacht Rugby generously donated much of the equipment.
Future plans include extending and further improving the club's playing surfaces as well as installing floodlighting for the pitches to accommodate night fixtures at the club.
Further improvements are planned for the upgrade of existing changing rooms and for the extension of the clubhouse.
The club is delighted to host the junior interprovincial match between Connacht and Ulster on April 25.
The first team, coached by former captain John Paul Walsh, compete in Connacht's Junior 1A league and are fourth in the table approaching the conclusion of the season.
The team are also looking forward to a Heineken Junior Cup semi-final against Ballina.
Westport reached the final of last year's competition before being pipped by Galwegians in the final. The Bulls will be hoping to go one better this year and win it, something they haven't managed to do since beating Connemara in the final in 1975.
"It has been a long time since Westport won the Junior Cup, but the team is coming into a good run of form at the moment and there are key players returning to full fitness so hopefully we can give it a good crack," says Dever.
Westport also have a development team competing in Connacht's Junior 2 league. This team helps young players and players that are new to rugby to gain experience with a view to moving up and playing for the first team.