Young Gort Gladiators keep game going strong
Rugby in the South Galway town is thriving thanks to huge efforts being put into club's underage section, writes Daragh Small
Gort RFC are a club who have fought against the odds over the years, lost their main junior side, and battled with extinction, but the brilliant work-rate of a few key individuals have ensured they remain a club on the rise.
Right now the south Galway outfit are entirely underage-focused. Along with Connacht Rugby, they have placed all of their efforts behind a wonderful minis and youths section that compares with some of the best in the county.
Inspirational figures like Tom Finneran, Garrett Piggott and Martin McGrath have been behind the drive for a brighter future and a junior team that can compete in the Connacht club scene once again.
Mary Ryan, Geraldine Niland and Majella Piggott have also piled in behind the project and things have taken on a whole new level of enthusiasm.
"I played years ago for Gort when I was a young fella. Then I moved away and was working in England. When I came back I got involved again through my own son, trying to get him involved in the game. I got back in coaching at mini level and played for the first team for a couple of years, but eventually they died away," says McGrath.
"But the Minis section is going great at the moment. They train on Saturday mornings from 10.30am to 11.45am and we are always looking for more people to help out with the coaching, especially the parents.
"We have about 80 or 90 kids there every Saturday. It requires a lot of bodies and not every coach can make it each time. We need cover, so it's not a case of being there every week but the more help we get the better.
"There is a huge buzz in the club. It's great when you see all of these young lads are playing and enjoying the game too. We host blitzes too and try and get other teams to come to us. Last weekend we had Loughrea and Galway Bay over to us. They had a couple of teams with them in each age group too."
As with most clubs in the country, an army of volunteers is required to keep the show on the road. Gort RFC, and their youth wing Gladiator Rugby, are no different. Martin has nothing but praise for their dedication and eagerness.
"There are people there like Garrett Piggott working hard. Garrett has been involved in Gort RFC for about 30 years, playing and being on the committee. He has given huge service to the club. He is not on the committee at the moment but he is involved in coaching with the U-12s and girls section.
effort "He puts a huge effort in every year. He would be one of the stalwarts of the club. Our president is Tom Finneran is another. He played for various clubs around the province, Old Boys Club and ourselves, and only stopped playing with us when he was 50. He would have been our first team coach when we had one.
"Our long-term focus is to get that junior team back there. But at the moment we are focusing on our Minis and underage."
The town of Gort has suffered from flooding problems in recent years, and the local church was almost destroyed on one occasion.
But luckily the home of Gort RFC, St Colman's Park, remains intact and it's a venue that continues to boast one of the best pitches in the province.
"The pitch is owned by the town of Gort and there is a St Colman's Park committee. The fact we don't own it is a bit of a speed bump for us. We have difficulty drawing down grants because we don't have a lease and don't own the ground," says McGrath.
"Everything we do is through fundraising. We fundraise for 95 per cent of the money we need every year. Fundraising and running events is a huge drain on us. That would take most of efforts through the year. We have to constantly look at news of raising finances.
"But we are lucky because our pitch would be one of the best pitches in Galway and probably Connacht. We don't suffer from the bad weather, it's a free-draining pitch. Where we are restricted is the amount of ground we have. We don't have a huge amount of ground and need a bigger facility."
Sport plays a huge part in the lives of the people of Gort. And the diverse nature of the town means that everyone gets involved.
"Hurling is the main sport in our area, we have a very successful Gort hurling team who competed in a few county finals. They are doing very well in underage as well," says McGrath.
"We also have a very successful soccer team Coole FC who play in the Clare league. They have been very successful in the last few years. We actually ground-share with them. They use St Colman's Park as well.
"We have Polish people, Brazilian people and various European nationalities. They are all great for taking part in the different sports around the area, be it hurling, soccer or rugby. They are very big into their sports and they love it. All of the sports are available in Gort Community School too."
Connacht Rugby has looked to broaden its horizons in recent years, with professional players popping up all over the province.
The Grassroots to Greenshirts focus allows for more indigenous players to get their chance in the Sportsground, and Gort are hoping to provide a pathway through their club in time.
"We are trying to get members through from whatever underage teams we have to the developmental structures they have in Connacht.
"They have very good structures there at the moment. They bring in as many players as they can," says McGrath.
"My own son would have played, he has gone on to Limerick now, but he would have played with developmental squads in Connacht when he was playing underage. The thing about a club like Gort is that young players have more of a chance of getting into the Connacht squads than the strong clubs in Galway city because they would have huge membership with more competition.
"The Connacht Branch like to get someone in from every club. We see it as a benefit for young players to join us rather than going into the city. They have more of a chance of progressing.
"The Connacht development structure that is there at the moment, there is a huge focus on developing underage talent in boys and girls.
"We also have girls rugby in our underage section. We are doing fairly well there.
"We have a couple of players coming from Portumna into one age-group. And there are a few from Galwegians too. We seem to do fairly okay across the board."