Roscommon nursery sees green shoots on rugby field
After starting from scratch, the dream of competing at top schools level in province is a reality for college, writes Daragh Small
When Paul Casserly first arrived at Roscommon Community College eight years ago, he had a completely blank canvas to work with. Rugby was non-existent in the school but principal Frank Chambers was desperate to bring about change.
Deputy principal Jude Lohan was another driver behind the idea, and a Connacht Rugby season ticket holder, Chambers was determined that the Community College would one day rival the CBS in Roscommon.
They are still in their infancy in terms of competing with the top schools in the province, but Casserly has put structures in place which should enable them to improve year on year, and eventually contest the Senior Schools A competitions.
For now Roscommon Community College have focused their efforts on the emerging and development tournaments and an effort to improve their facilities, but the future looks very bright and Casserly is excited about it.
"In my own background I would be prominent in Galwegians Rugby Club, I'm on the committee, I am a branch delegate. I am a football committee member," says Casserly.
"Over the years I have built up a lot of contacts with Connacht Rugby administration at the Sportsground. I sought to enter the school in competitions to do with their size and their ability.
Canvas "Back in the early days we wouldn't have had any club players playing in the school, not even a Creggs players, which is only five or six miles from the school.
"It was a total blank canvas that we had to work with. I didn't know what I was getting into. But the lads have grown to like it and many have joined Creggs.
"We couldn't do anything without the club. We are totally dependent on them to provide us with their pitch and facilities whenever we have matches. I would have a good relationship with the people in Creggs."
Casserly is from Galway City and played for Connacht and Galwegians, before he gave up the game and turned to a career in teaching.
He arrived in Roscommon Community College where he teaches history and politics, but sport courses through his veins, and he finally got to enter the school into their first rugby competition in 2013.
"In 2014 we won the Junior Development League. This season we won the Junior Emerging League in Connacht," says Casserly.
"We are in the semi-final of the Junior Emerging Cup. We have a good junior team this year in the school. The senior team is also playing in the Senior Emerging Cup.
"Rugby has grown a lot but one of the things I did was bring busloads of kids into Connacht matches two or three times a year on a Friday night.
"That helps grow the game and market it. It helps raise awareness about rugby. Lots of girls and boys go in and enjoy the night and that all helps.
"Under Pat Lam, Connacht had the community visits and they went around the province. They came to Creggs one day and I brought a group out to watch them.
"I have had the likes of Eric Elwood come out, when he was Connacht coach, to do a training session and launch our school magazine.
"And I had John Muldoon come into the school two or three years ago to present the awards on a sports day."
All of those actions help to inspire a new generation of rugby player in a school and county where Gaelic football is always the first port of call.
Jubilant When Roscommon won the Connacht final for the first time since 2010 last year against Galway in Pearse Stadium, one of the abiding memories was when the pitch filled with young jubilant Roscommon supporters afterwards.
Four Community College teachers played in that game, Conor Devaney and Shane Killoran for Roscommon, and Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn for Galway.
There is a huge tradition of GAA in the school but Casserly explains why it doesn't take away from the new rugby institution.
"There has been a number of good county footballers who came onto the staff. That has grown the football but there is no competition in the school still. We are rowing in the same direction," says Casserly.
"At times Paul Conroy has taken a couple of matches. Shane Killoran is another man who takes the U-16s. I am looking after the seniors at the moment.
"In Roscommon, as a whole, the young boys aspire to play GAA. All of the boys who play sports would be Gaelic footballers first. But many of them would play all sports.
"We try and accommodate all of the sports that we can. Because the school was such a small school, it has grown a bit since 2012, and doubled in size.
"But when it was that small the same fellas all played the same sports.
"The fella who was on the football team was on the rugby team and the hurling team and so on. It was the same people playing the sports. But that has changed now.
"We would nearly have rugby players, and GAA players. But things haven't changed in that most young boys will play for anything that might get them out of class. That hasn't and won't change."
In 2018, rugby has finally come to prominence in Roscommon Community College, and with everyone focused on a common goal, a brand new rugby pitch on site would complete the project.
"At the younger age-group we should in a position to challenge CBS in a few years. That's because some of the lads have been inspired by those who went before them and they are joining clubs," says Casserly.
"They are getting the benefit of training in the club where they wouldn't have had that before. But most of the Creggs players would still be in the CBS. That's just the way it is and we are hopefully going to catch up in time. But there is still a natural rivalry there.
"And it's great that we have a girls team who have played in a number of blitzes and competitions which were organised by Connacht now too.
"Conor Galvin organises those, he is based in Athlone, and is constantly on the phone to us to get girls teams out.
"It is always challenging with teaching hours and getting substitute teachers out so there is a lot of goodwill needed.
"But we are improving on all fronts and the facilities play a huge part too. We do have a 25-acre site at the school and we have ambitions to build our own pitch now," he adds.