Portumna RFC: Raising standards in border territory
With a focus on player safety, Portumna RFC is a young rugby club that continues to grow up fast, writes Ciarán McGreal
Portumna Rugby Club was established in 2002 in its current guise after a night of reminiscing by some former rugby players in one of the local pubs in the Galway town.
Efforts were made 40 years previously to set up a club in the town but after only a handful of games the team broke down due to a lack of numbers.
But in 2002 the club got up and running and has gone from strength to strength. Paul Dillon was the club's first president in 2002 and in the early days the club used the facilities of Portumna Community School to train.
The club currently play on a rented pitch in Castle Avenue but efforts are being made to secure a lease on a piece of land to establish a permanent home for the club.
Portumna's senior side play in the Connacht Junior League Division 1C and are top of the table after four games. Tony Flynn is head coach while Michael Harding and Michael Brady look after the management side of things.
Portumna opened the season with a 14-10 win away to Claremorris before a 13-13 draw with Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim. Two home wins over Corrib and Dunmore means the club are unbeaten going into their clash with Westport RFC in Mayo this Sunday.
The senior side secured silverware last season as they were victorious in the Connacht J2 League after defeating Corinthians at the Sportsground in May.
Connacht captain John Muldoon is a Portumna man and despite having not played for the club himself, the Irish international has been a big help to the club.
Muldoon played his underage rugby with Nenagh since Portumna RFC did not get up and running in time for his underage career.
However, according to club PRO Dermot Moore, Muldoon has made a big contribution to the club.
"He's been an incredible friend to Portumna rugby," says Moore. "He turns up to minis' training sessions every now and then and he presents medals to the kids. Last year he was very helpful to our senior team in that he took time out in an incredibly busy year for him to train the guys for a couple of sessions.
"They learned a lot from him. We're very proud of him. He's a fantastic ambassador and he's been a very loyal servant to Connacht."
The club's underage set-up was established in 2008 by current president Mark Scannell and the minis section, currently headed up by Gareth Needham, caters for boys and girls from U-8s to U-12s.
In the youth rugby section, the club has an U-13s boys team as well as U-13s and U-15s teams for girls with Emer Power managing the girls' rugby in the club.
Moore remarked that the club have seen a drop in children taking up the sport as a result of parents' concerns about safety.
Moore was quick to stress that the Portumna RFC are very safety-conscious and the club encourages parents to come to training to chat with the coaches if they have any concerns.
"We're struggling a little bit in terms of numbers. We believe a lot of it has to do with concussion. Parents are seeing a lot of stories about very serious injuries, especially around the area of concussion," says Moore.
"We, as a club, would like to get across that we take concussion very seriously. All of our coaches attended a first aid course with a heavy emphasis on concussion. We take safety very, very seriously.
"Rugby that's played at underage level, particularly at minis level, bears no resemblance to what you see on TV in the professional ranks. If parents have any concerns, we always encourage them to contact us or if they're not sure about letting their child play, we encourage them to come down and see what we're about.
"We take safety very seriously. The minis rugby is played for fun. It's not competitive. If parents have any doubts, come down to training. We train on a Sunday between 10.30 and 11.30."
The town of Portumna is located on the border of Galway and Tipperary and Moore said that the club's catchment area has resulted in a few Munster natives running out for the Connacht club.
"We're lucky in that we get players from all walks of life. The club colours are green and red. I suppose the red element signifies the Munster side of the club because we are a border club even though we're very Connacht-affiliated.
"We get a lot of players from Tipperary, we get guys from Tynagh, Loughrea. It's not just Portumna people."
Portumna is a hurling stronghold and the hurling club have won four All-Ireland senior club hurling titles with the likes of Damien Hayes, Andy Smith and the Canning brothers, Ollie and Joe, to the fore.
Moore says a good relationship exists between the clubs. "When the hurling season ends some players come back to play rugby. We try not to clash. Training sessions are always at different times so that people can do both.
"We very much understand that hurling is a huge feature in the community and the area."
A number of Portumna's club members are also avid supporters and Connacht Rugby season ticket holders. Thankfully, he said, a few of them travelled to Edinburgh last season for Connacht's famous Pro12 final victory over Leinster.
"A few lads managed to go. Planes, trains and automobiles. There were some extraordinary stories. Flights to Newcastle and then crazy train journeys.
"It was extraordinary what some people got up to but wasn't it so worth it? It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. There was a good night in Portumna that night!"
Profile: Portumna RFC
Club name: Portumna RFC
Address: Castle Avenue, Portumna, Co Galway
Head coach: Tony Flynn
Captain: John Murphy
Club President: Mark Scannell