Special new role helping make NUIG a major force in rugby
Building on the rejuvenation of last season where the Scholarship programme springboarded 19-year-old prop Conan O'Donnell to his first Connacht Pro12 appearance and the senior team won promotion, NUIG developed the role of Special Projects Officer.
Working with the scholarship students is one of the key elements to the role - which was set up in conjunction with the IRFU and Connacht Rugby, and went to Ja Naughton.
Naughton explained: "I work with the 10 scholarship students in the mornings, twice a week they have a 45 minute strength and conditioning session, resistance training, weights.
"This is followed by a 45-minute rugby skills session which usually involves handling and tackling technique or a specific area of development depending on the position the player plays.
"Working to develop the players' core skills and abilities is an essential part of the role and watching them progress as the weeks roll by is exceptionally rewarding."
"I'm also involved in coaching the U-20s team and we've a good core of guys to pick from.
"They train twice a week in the evenings and though it's been a tough start to the JP Flanagan League it's great to see some of the scholarship students who've come through that team graduate to play with the senior college team.
"Players like Shane Faulkner, John Molony and Ryan Guilfoyle, who are all scholarship students, have been promoted from the U-20s, have been instrumental in the seniors' success so far in their league campaign and hopefully they can kick on and challenge for honours this season."
"Another highly successful part of the role has been to form and develop an inter-colleges team and for the first time in a number of seasons NUIG have competed in the Student Sport Ireland leagues.
"Exceeding everyone's expectations, the team have made it to the national semi-finals, a massive achievement in their first season.
"We've been working closely with secondary schools both within Connacht and beyond to promote the university and attract even more high-profile athletes.
"This season we've hosted senior schools matches between the Bish and Sligo Grammar, the Jes have used our facilities for matches and Terenure College used the pavilion in Dangan for a training camp before Christmas.
"There are more training camps planned before the end of the season and it's fantastic to be in a position to showcase what the university can offer from a sporting point of view."