Wednesday 26 June 2019

Renowned city club to benefit from new stadium facilities

Daragh Small hears how the Sportsground’s tenants will receive a deserved major boost

OLBC the Ard na Cregg and J2 League winners
OLBC the Ard na Cregg and J2 League winners

Daragh Small

Connacht submitted a planning application for the redevelopment of the Sportsground this week, and OLBC will watch on in anticipation as they look to reap the rewards.

It's been a turbulent few years for the Galway city outfit but with club president James Moran at the helm they have begun to excel once again.

Ambrose Conboy's departure as senior coach was a massive blow for OLBC but they regrouped and now will look at the chance to play and train at a new-look Sportsground as a huge step in the right direction.

"These new Connacht facilities they are going to entice players to us. We will have use of all of the Connacht facilities because we have been there for so many years," says Moran.

"Fair play to Connacht, they have worked with us to ensure that we will have use of facilities and pitches. It was all up and around the place for a while, we didn't know what was going to happen with the new stadium.

"Any young person these days who plays rugby, you can always entice them by telling them we play our rugby in the Sportsground where Connacht play. Do you want to play there? You can always get to play on the pitch, it mightn't be for Connacht but it would be for the Boys' Club."

Moran lives and grew up in Lough Atalia just off College Road, and the Sportsground became home right from the off.

He went to primary school at Coláiste Iognáid and then followed onto the secondary school there too. He finished up there in 1999 and now he is an electrical contractor.

Moran's father, Mossy Moran, came through the ranks at OLBC and now he is the president of Connacht Rugby.

"The Sportsground is very unique the way it has a greyhound track around it. We play on the back pitch the way we have done for many years," says Moran.

"It's now Connacht's training pitch. I grew up there. My father was involved in the club so like you do, you follow in your father's footsteps.

"He is president of the Connacht Branch and I am president of my rugby club. Rugby is a big thing in the family. Very proud for the whole family to see him doing what he is doing after all of his years being involved with the referees and Boys Club. He was involved with the Association of Referees for years, he was a referee and was president twice of the referees.

"He played with OLBC up until he was 30. Then he had a bad shoulder injury and he had to retire. That's why he got into refereeing because he felt that he was so young. He still wanted to be involved but he couldn't play."

OLBC have always competed towards the top of Connacht junior club rugby, but not having a youth system was always a challenge.

Brilliant

"Our club was doing very, very well around four or five years ago. We had a brilliant coach Ambrose Conboy. He had done massive things with the club but unfortunately after a few years Ambrose left and all of the players we had in kind of left," says Moran.

"We went from Division 1A the top junior league in Connacht down to Division 2A which is four leagues down nearly. It was a matter of three years and the club was very close to folding.

"A group of us got together, John Tyreman, Martin Hughes, Donncha Carey, John Hardiman and others and rebuilt. We went down a few leagues and just tried to start rebuilding and rebuilding.

"Last year we won a 2A league and the Ard na Cregg Cup in Connacht. We won the two of them and got promoted to Division 1C. At the moment we are midway in 1C and we are trying to get back up to where we were."

OLBC play their rugby on the back pitch and success has finally returned there with the help of Moran and his colleagues.

John Tyreman was one of the major drivers that brought playing numbers up again in the club and a tight-knit bunch of people got together on the committee side of things to shore things up alongside the numerous volunteers who also help out.

"John had an awful lot to do with bringing in some ex-Rugby League players," adds Moran.

"It's very hard to find people to play rugby anymore. There is a lot of clubs in Connacht struggling to get numbers and we only have one team.

"The problem with us is we don't have any underage structure. We are scraping from other clubs and trying to find lads who never really played rugby before and are interested in playing rugby and luckily enough we found a few.

"We had two teams but we nearly folded two or three years ago. Luckily, we are starting to turn it around now. We are starting to get things back.

"Our captain this year is Paul Walsh who has been a great influence. The player/coach Donncha Carey has turned things around. There is another coach that has come on board there, Seán Connolly, is helping out big time. He used to play with us previously and has come back in and is helping out with the coaching.

"On the financial side of things, you have John Hardiman and Martin Hughes, who is the treasurer. Between the two of them they keep the finances of the club going."

Having both Morans in such esteemed seats at the Sportsground has taken years of hard work and dedication but now the family have reaped the rewards. "We are very proud to be in this scenario. We have turned it around. The aim is to get back to where we were but it's a few years away. But it's going in the right direction.

"I am a very proud Connacht man and a very proud Boys Club man. It's been my club all my life so I would be gutted if anything ever happened to it.

"I take great pride in leading them out as captain and president."

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