Connacht scrum-half Caolin Blade proud to have put Galway rugby minnows Monivea firmly on the map

Connacht's Caolin Blade at the launch of the ninth edition of the 'Wings for Life World Run', which offers runners of all levels an opportunity to run separately for a united cause, raising funds for the not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation. Photo: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

CIan Tracey

When you type ‘Monivea Rugby Club’ into Google, the first search result will bring you to the club’s website, with the following written just below the title: “Play rugby with Connacht’s Caolin Blade’s club at Monivea Rugby Club. Have fun, get excellent training and be part of an up and coming club.”

To say Monivea are proud of their most famous son’s achievements would be an understatement, but that sense of pride works both ways.

Blade didn’t have to look too far from home for inspiration when he was younger.

Growing up in Abbeyknockmoy, a small village just outside Monivea, hurling, football, soccer and boxing were on offer, and while he excelled at most sports he turned his hand to, rugby is deep-rooted in the Blade family.

Both of Caolin’s older brothers, Darren and Eoin, played for Monivea, but their dad, Pat, was the real trailblazer.

For a rural area in east Galway, where Gaelic games dominate most people’s agenda, Monivea Rugby Club has been a beacon for those who are more about the oval ball.

Pat Blade dedicated much of his life to the local junior rugby club that will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

“My father played rugby until he was 47,” Caolin says.

“He actually played with my brother when they won a junior cup in the Sportsground for one of his last games. Dad came on at out-half and Darren was scrum-half. It’s a rare thing to have.

“But they played for years together, to be honest, because dad played so late and Darren started playing with Monivea’s top team when he was 17.

“I think Dad wanted to stay playing, but a few people were telling him to stop!

“He is a huge influence. He just showed the commitment and the love he had for Monivea Rugby Club. He would have done anything for them.

“He went on to manage Abbeyknockmoy hurlers as well. He’s sport mad. He’s someone that I look up to. It’s a really good trait to have – that love for your community and the people.”

For Blade, who went to Athenry Vocational School, that connection runs deep because, for all he has achieved in his career with Connacht and Ireland, it comes back to the platform set by Monivea.

Having started playing rugby with Monivea when he was six before joining Galwegians en route to the Connacht set-up, Blade’s journey came full circle last summer when his excellent form got rewarded with a first Ireland cap in the win over the USA.

An incredibly special day was made even more so as Blade became Monivea’s first full senior international, going one better than Jimmy Screene who featured for Ireland ‘A’ in the 1990s.

“I was absolutely delighted,” Blade reflects.

“I think there were 6,000 people at the game and a few of them were my family and friends, which is what it’s all about.

“Representing Monivea and Galwegians was special. Monivea gave me the foundations all the way up and Galwegians gave me the stepping stone into the professional game.

“Monivea is a huge part of my life. A lot of my family still live there and I’m always back there. I hope that I have done them proud, and hopefully, I can give them a few more proud days.”

Before the pandemic, Blade took his first steps in coaching when he helped out his brother Darren, who is the head coach at Monivea, and that sense of giving back was not lost on him.

“I found it hard initially because a lot of the lads there are my best friends,” he laughs.

Blade will turn 28 next month and is a key part of the Connacht set-up having played 143 games for his home province, and the scrum-half is hugely respected.

However, the dream of playing professional rugby only ever came into Blade’s thoughts in his late teens, as he recalls: “I didn’t really know a whole pile about the professional side until I was 17/18. When you’re in the Sportsground, you could see how good the set-up was and that you could make a living out of playing rugby.

“Up to that point, watching Monivea play was as big as it got for me!

“Back then, you’d see Leinster and Munster playing on TV, but you wouldn’t see too much of Connacht. That was the biggest eye-opener for me as I got older and saw the rise and growth of Connacht.

“It’s an absolute privilege to be part of it. With the announcement of the new stadium and the new pitch, it’s just going to be so big. Not only for the players and staff but the whole of Connacht in general.

“Young lads are going to get that feeling of playing in front of a big crowd and get the feel of what a professional game is like.”

After an injury-disrupted period, Blade has found his feet again, and his battle with Kieran Marmion will continue across the remainder of Connacht’s season.

There is a summer tour to New Zealand to aim for, but Blade isn’t getting ahead of himself – even if winning his first cap last year gave him the belief that his skills are well-suited to Test rugby.

“I got called into the 2019 Six Nations squad when Joe Schmidt was still there. There were quite a few injuries and I understood that,” Blade adds.

“I probably didn’t feel like I deserved to be there, considering the injuries.

“The difference in the previous camp was huge. I had quite a few good performances, which brought my confidence on.

“Then to get called into camp because of the recognition for how I had been playing gave me a lot of confidence. It showed that the coaches had trust in me as well.

“It’s just about pushing on now. I have complete confidence in myself and my game.”

Blade may have taken the road less travelled to get to this point in his career, but by doing so he has inspired many youngsters from rural Connacht to do the same.

And by following his dad’s lead, Blade has also helped to put Monivea rugby on the map.