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Creggs a driving force behind success of CBS

School's decision to bring rugby to its pupils owes much to club's dedication

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Hard yards: Garbally’s Fergus Finneran with Tom Farrell of CBS in the Connacht Schools Senior A Cup final at the Galway Sportsgrounds last year

Hard yards: Garbally’s Fergus Finneran with Tom Farrell of CBS in the Connacht Schools Senior A Cup final at the Galway Sportsgrounds last year

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Jack Tucker and Mark Purcell who made Irish U-19 Clubs and Schools squads

Jack Tucker and Mark Purcell who made Irish U-19 Clubs and Schools squads

Connacht’s Denis Buckley with CBS SCT coaches Eimhin Grifiths and Patrick O Farrell

Connacht’s Denis Buckley with CBS SCT coaches Eimhin Grifiths and Patrick O Farrell

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Hard yards: Garbally’s Fergus Finneran with Tom Farrell of CBS in the Connacht Schools Senior A Cup final at the Galway Sportsgrounds last year

For many decades a village rugby club on the Roscommon-Galway border, Creggs RFC came knocking on the door of CBS Roscommon looking to introduce rugby to their pupils. However, they were turned away time after time.

CBS, a bastion of Gaelic games, wasn't yet ready to allow rugby football to sit alongside our national games. Creggs persevered and, at the same time, attitudes changed nationally.

The success of the national rugby team, coupled with provincial success in Europe, meant that by the early 2000s rugby was on a high. Similar to sunny July days when, inspired by events at SW19 children pass by with tennis rackets in hand, the sight of youngsters kicking an oval ball around was now not an uncommon sight in rural western Ireland.

In the 1990s, Creggs RFC identified an increasingly high dropout rate among its older youth players as they moved away from the sport. As a consequence of the falling numbers, the club's senior teams were reduced to just one side.

The main priority of Creggs RFC was to keep its young players playing. The club was convinced that if it could get the secondary schools in the area playing rugby, this would help enormously to secure their viability.

Maybe it was no coincidence that when Creggs called again to CBS Roscommon in 2010, they met with an all-female delegation of then-principal Josephine Connaughton and PE Teacher, Noelle Geoghegan.

With greater ease of transportation to bigger, neighbouring towns and an increase in subject choices offered by the VEC-run schools, CBS Roscommon recognised that its excellent academic reputation alone might not be enough to maintain student numbers.

Ms Geoghegan had a ready cohort of lads who were slipping from sport, and the increasing pace of Gaelic games meant that some boys who lacked the speed needed for football had a lot to offer on the rugby pitch. The time was right to offer a bigger sporting choice to potential new pupils.

CBS at this time had no staff member with rugby coaching experience, so the Schools Rugby Programme, which was overseen by the school management, was run entirely by Creggs RFC, which brought its expertise to the programme.

Creggs immediately installed some second-hand training floodlights in the school for use by all sports and, with an equipment grant secured from the local sports partnership company and jerseys sponsored by local businesses, CBS played its first schools rugby match in 2011.

Head coach Dave Purcell, a man with a Garryowen pedigree, who had been on two losing Munster Schools semi-final teams with St Clements in the '80s, set about his task with energy.

A Junior Development Cup final appearance in the first year was the reward for his work. Assisting Dave were Noel Galvin, who played for Ennis RFC, Wanderers RFC's Patrick O Farrell who played Schools Rugby for Coláiste Iognáid and represented Connacht at under-age level, and CBS past pupil and Creggs RFC's Aidan Farrell.

In the 2012/13 season, CBS Roscommon entered Senior and Junior Development Cups, losing again in the Junior Development Cup final.

CBS Roscommon was now firmly established in Connacht Schools rugby and fulfilling a full fixture schedule in all competitions. This also allowed the school to access funding from the IRFU's "Schools of Ireland" funding programme, which is vital to the participation and success of the school in Connacht Schools rugby.

The following season, CBS lost narrowly in the Junior Cup final to St Gerald's Castlebar in a wonderful, high-quality match played at the Sportsgrounds in Galway.

The CBS JCT captain from that day, Brian Diffley, went on to Cistercian College, Roscrea and won a Senior Leinster schools title with CCR in 2015.

Indeed 2015 saw a Junior League and Cup double, and CBS Roscommon's name engraved on the magnificent silver cup alongside some of the great rugby schools in Connacht.

The breakthrough at Senior schools level was a more difficult nut to crack. With the extra exam pressure on the students at senior cycle, it would take a few more years to see sufficient numbers putting their hand up for the SCT. Also, the other sports in the school needed time to see that a new sport wouldn't eat into or compromise their resources.

By 2018/19 CBS Roscommon had exceeded expectations on the sporting front, with their footballers winning an All-Ireland B Senior title and CBS SCT making their first Connacht Schools Senior Cup final, losing to a much-fancied and more experienced Garbally College.

This sporting collaboration was further enhanced by the arrival into the coaching team of Carlow native Sean Adamson, a veteran with over 30 years' experience in Leinster Schools Rugby with both St Gerard's School and Presentation College Bray.

Sean is working with both rugby and football teams and contributing massively to skills and strength and conditioning, with the majority of his time spent with the footballers.

Uniquely in Connacht, the link between schools and club rugby is one that is joined at the hip, as many of the schools depend on their local rugby club for the use of their facilities for training sessions and matches, while the clubs benefit from the increasing participation of younger members in the sport.

Connacht Schools rugby has seen the number of competitive matches double in recent years. Emerging and development Leagues are thriving in all counties in the province and this will no doubt enhance the Connacht Rugby "Grassroots to Green Shirts" promotion of the game.

Creggs RFC has backed their investment in the CBS with a spectacular development of their club's facilities to support their ambition. Club President and CBS SCT Manager Aidan Farrell recently presided over the official opening at Creggs RFC of the only World Rugby-accredited 3G pitch in Connacht.

The new pitch, alongside two new grass pitches, is available to all local schools, primary and secondary, and all pitches are used extensively by both. The club recently hosted all six Connacht School League finals over two days.

CBS Roscommon has several qualified rugby coaches on its staff, including PE teachers Aaron Hynes, who is Head of Rugby (as well as coaching the senior football team) and Eimhin Griffith, who has worked with Connacht Rugby as an S&C coach.

The icing on the cake for CBS Roscommon will be a Connacht Senior Schools Cup title, which will surely happen at some stage. With the resources employed by the school and Creggs RFC, CBS Roscommon is firmly established as a bona fide rugby school.

The school continues to deliver excellent results across many sports, both regionally and nationally.

CBS Roscommon are the Connacht Senior Schools Golf champions and the 2018 All-Ireland Senior Schools Golf champions.

By current Creggs RFC President and former Roscommon CBS pupil Aidan Farrell, with Tony Ward.

Irish Independent