Portumna RFC: Muldoon's home club building for the future
New pitch central to plans as numbers playing start to rise once again in Galway hurling stronghold, writes Declan Rooney
In a couple of weeks' time John Muldoon will play at the Sportsground for the final time.
Almost 15 years since his first Connacht game, a win against Leinster would be the perfect send-off for the Connacht captain and it is sure to be a hugely emotional occasion for players and supporters.
But for Muldoon's home club Portumna RFC there will be a silver lining. When he was young he learned the game in Portumna CS, but it wasn't until he turned professional that the club was founded.
Down the line the man from Gortanumera might get to play for the club for the first time but for locals, having one of their own back around the place will be a real positive.
"It probably will be sad to see him finish up, but we will probably see him even more now," said fixtures secretary Derek Frawley.
"It might be the end of an era for Connacht but we'll still see John. John will always be a Portumna man and he's always there for the club. Maybe now that he's finishing up he might be able to have a pint on a Saturday evening and not worry about training.
"Over the years if we wanted anything John always came out and gave us a hand. Be it an award ceremony or anything John is always there and a massive crowd always came up to see him. All the players want to be John Muldoon, his pictures are all over the clubhouse."
While it will be a huge change for Connacht not to have Muldoon at No 8 next season, Portumna are hoping that they too can go through their own big switch and finally make the move to their new home.
Since the club was founded in 2003 they have operated in the town beside Portumna Castle, but finally they are close to owning their own piece of land. According to Derek, the club's fundraising drive is in full swing and they have identified the ideal piece of land in the town, while having their own patch would be a huge boost.
"Our biggest aim at the moment is to get into a new pitch. We have new grounds, we have got a lease signed and planning permission in place and are just trying to get money together now. We're halfway there with the fundraising but we need a lot more.
"We were in the middle of organising a cycle to the Aviva Stadium, but we couldn't get the numbers together to help out on the route so that has been postponed for a while, but we'll come again with another plan.
"The new ground is on the Bridge Road on the other side of town. We have been trying to get our own grounds since 2002, but we have been renting since then.
"It has taken us 16 years of trying to get our own land. Every time we try to get it nailed down something has happened, but we'll get there in the end.
"Considering this is going to be a community pitch too, it'll be great for the area."
One of the army of regular volunteers who keep the club alive, as fixtures' secretary it is Derek's job to keep the various players and management informed of the upcoming matches at all grades for the club. They are always on the lookout for new members and volunteers.
Defeat to Loughrea on Easter Sunday's Division 1C league final was a blow to the junior team who narrowly missed out on a second promotion in the last three seasons, but at underage and in the women's game, the club are on the up.
In such a hurling stronghold, Derek sees the promotion and training of rugby in the local schools as a vital cog in their future development, and he welcomed the return of structured rugby to the school this year.
"In the early years we got off to a great start, and after a few quiet seasons things are beginning to improve again, but the biggest thing is having the rugby in the school again.
"A couple of years ago the game was discontinued in the school, but before that we were training kids in the school after the age of 13. It is only in the last six weeks that rugby is back in there and it was the kids who wanted the game reintroduced, which is a great sign for the future.
"I don't know if Ireland's Grand Slam win had an effect. We were flying there for ages and we were fielding everything from U-6s to U-14s and then this year we could only do U-10 boys. We're delighted that the school game is back.
"It would have been great to win in Loughrea the last day. The club was only really established in 2002 or '03 and by 2006 we were up to Division 1B.
"At that stage the hurling took over and we started losing players, but after we dropped down to Division 2 we were promoted again and finished third in 1C last year.
"We finished second this year and lost the league final for automatic promotion, but things are definitely on the up again."
And while their male counterparts continue their drive for promotion, the Portumna girls are shining on the park.
Frawley puts their enthusiasm for the game down to the recent up-turn in women's rugby on the national scene and he praised their progress and success.
"We have an U-15 girls team that are winning all around them and they won the plate this year and they won the league last year.
"The U-13 girls came home with a trophy this year too so the girls teams have won more than the senior team and the boys teams combined in the last two years. They are flying it.
"We had a ladies team but the numbers dwindled a small bit and after one season we had to pull the team altogether.
"But holding onto the girls was a lot easier when the women won the Six Nations a few years ago and when the women's World Cup was on.
"We saw a huge interest at that point and hopefully the future signs are good too."