Wednesday 17 January 2018

Tradition and progress go hand in hand in east Galway

Ballinasloe U15 Cup winners
Ballinasloe U15 Cup winners

Ballinasloe RFC prides itself in being the standard bearer for rugby in east Galway.

The club boasts a long tradition, tracing its foundation back to 1875, thus making it one of the oldest rural clubs in Ireland. It was one of six clubs represented at the formation of the Connacht Branch in 1885 and is now entering its 139th year of action.

Ballinasloe has enjoyed its share of success over the seasons, winning the Connacht Senior Cup on three occasions and capturing four league titles. In addition it has taken six junior cups as well as two league triumphs.

The club has produced many players who have won provincial caps. Ballinasloe native Ray McLaughlin became the first Connacht man to captain Ireland when he led them out against France in Lansdowne Road on January 23, 1965. He was also a Lions stalwart.

And what rugby follower of a certain age would not fondly remember that wonderful try scored by another Ballinasloe man, Noel Mannion, against Wales in Cardiff in 1989? That doyen of rugby commentators, the late Bill McLaren, described it as one of the great No 8 tries scored in international rugby.

The club has also produced a number of young players who represented Ireland at youth and under age level.

Proud of its heritage, today Ballinasloe is a modern and progressive club. Driven by a community spirit and sporting zeal, it reaches out beyond the parish to embrace a rich hinterland where all players, members and visitors are made welcome at its friendly grounds and clubhouse at Graigueawoneen.

There is also a warm appreciation for the great contributions made by club presidents, committees and volunteers down the years.

The club is currently fielding two adult sides, with the first XV playing in Division 1A of the Connacht Junior League while the Development Squad competes in Division 2.

The club also fields teams at all the underage levels. Last season the U-13s were particularly successful, winning the Connacht cup and league double while going through the season undefeated.

There is a huge emphasis on the mini rugby sector in Ballinasloe, where players from the age of six up to 12 are catered for, with coaching taking place on Saturday mornings. They participate in numerous blitzes throughout the season. Having their own brand name, they are known as the Ballinasloe Broncos.

The club is very fortunate to be able to call on so many coaches of the highest calibre, all of whom meet Branch criteria for coaching roles.

At the helm is the aforementioned Noel Mannion in his capacity as head coach to the first XV, where he is ably assisted by former Connacht player Kevin Tierney. In true amateur spirit, no coaches are paid.

Ballinasloe rugby club's connection with the local secondary school, St Josephs College, Garbally can't be overlooked, a relationship that dates back to over a century ago.

When the school first opened its doors as the diocesan seminary, rugby became a popular sport there due mainly to interest shown in the game by teachers of the day. When the students became proficient at the game the club suddenly had a source of young players from which they could build their team.

There has been a steady stream of players from the school backboning the club ever since.

In keeping with the inclusive ethos of the club, women have been playing an important role in its activities for many seasons.

There is a hard-working and dedicated women's committee who come to the fore on hospitality occasions. The fair sex have also made their contribution in the club's administration and working in projects outside of the committee room.

Ballinasloe was one of the first rugby clubs to elect a woman president when Geraldine Kelly was elected to that office for seasons 2011-12 and2012-13, having already held roles as treasurer and secretary of the club.

Swathe

On the playing front the females are also cutting a swathe with the fielding of a ladies' U-15 team for the first time last season. It was a successful venture for them as they captured the Connacht league and cup double for their category.

Manager for ladies rugby at the club, Declan Murphy, said: "Last season's success was totally unexpected. We were just hoping to get a girls' team up and running but they showed great interest and application.

"This season we will be adding U-12 and U-18 teams into provincial competitions."

Club president John Doolan comments: "Fielding so many teams and developing and maintaining the infra structure to support them is financially challenging. We are always indebted to our members, volunteers and friends for backing the club.

"Our commercial partnership with Spain Funeral Directors in the town is a vital arrangement and proving mutually beneficial to both parties. It was a great vote of confidence shown by the firm in the club when they came on board.

"After almost 140 year in existence we are still striding forward."

Irish Independent

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