Connemara's adult men's team in action against NUIG last month. Photo: Saoirse O'Rourke
Breakthrough internationals setting the example for Connemara RFC's players of the future, writes Ciarán McGreal.
Despite Connemara RFC's remote location, the club's proposed developments will ensure it will not be forgotten any time soon.
It may well be 'next stop New York' when you look west from their base in Clifden, but the club's recent purchase of land will lead to improved facilities which will hopefully see a swell in playing numbers.
President Peter Keane has been involved in various capacities since the late 1970s and he feels securing their home patch of land has led to a great feeling of excitement in the club.
"We've just completed the purchase of 10.5 acres of land from the Franciscan Brothers. That's literally only been done in the last month. It's exciting times at the moment," says Keane.
"We plan to build a second pitch and a training area. We've only the one pitch at the moment and everybody is training and playing on that. Our plan after that is for additional facilities over time. There'll be improvements made to our existing clubhouse as well.
"There's a 5km walk around the land so we're looking at putting in a walkway right around the pitch as well. The plan is that people will use the area.
"We have probably more land than we need so we're going to look at ways of utilising it to make a bit of money from it and keep the club going."
The finer details of the deal are still being ironed out but the club hopes the new facilities will enable the club to further enhance its relationship with the local sporting talent.
Clifden Community School is being redeveloped at the moment and Keane feels the rugby club's own works will help provide a sporting facility for the school's increased roster.
"There's a couple of things to be finalised with the Revenue and all that. We're hoping to have a plan in for the Capital Sports Fund.
"The new community school is being built at the moment and we're hoping to tap into that talent. There's always been a good relationship with the school so we're hoping to nurture that a bit more."
The club was formed in 1974 but rugby in Connemara dates back as far as the 1920s when employees from the Marconi communication station in Clifden took up the sport. In the 1940s, children from the area who were attending rugby schools in Dublin wanted to continue playing the sport during the school holidays. They assembled a team and they took on Corinthians on St Stephen's Day in 1946. The game ended 6-6.
Connemara's senior side play in the Connacht Junior 1A league and the team lie second in the table. Henry O'Toole and Bernard Keaney handle the coaching of the team and their charges have won eight of their ten league games to date.
Ballina currently sit top of the pile and the Mayo side will visit Clifden at the end of the month in what promises to be an enthralling contest with Connemara. The teams have met twice already this season and Connemara hold the bragging rights. In the league, Connemara won 17-13 and in their Junior Cup clash three weeks ago they repeated the trick as they overturned their hosts 22-18.
Last weekend was a very successful one for the Galway side as they progressed in the Junior Cup thanks to a narrow win over Sligo RFC with the U15s side, which is combined with Oughterard, beating Loughrea in the Connacht U15 Development League final.
The club's senior side previously played in the All-Ireland League after securing promotion in 2001. Unfortunately, the team was relegated to the Connacht Junior League in 2013 but the team didn't spend too long licking its wounds as Connemara secured a league title, the Cawley Cup and the Connacht Plate in their first season back in junior rugby.
Connemara's minis section runs from U8s to U12s while the club also fields youth teams at U14, U15 and U18.5 level.
Boys and girls both play in the minis but the club do not have a girls' youth team at the moment. The committee hope this changes with the increased interest in the women's game.
Connemara native Mairead Coyne (below) is one of seven Connacht players in the Ireland Women's squad for the 6 Nations with the full-back starting the competition opener in Scotland last week. Coyne plays her club rugby with Galwegians and Keane feels she is a great role model for Connemara's underage stars. "We can tell our players that if you put in the work, you can get there."
All three players have been capped for Ireland on the back of Connacht's PRO12 glory last season with O'Halloran winning his first cap on Ireland's tour to South Africa last summer.
O'Halloran's father, Aidan, serves as chairman with Connemara and the Offaly native had the honour of being named president of the Connacht Branch back in 2012.
Leinster prop Oisín Heffernan also began his career with Connemara. Heffernan represented Ireland in the U-20 World Championship in the summer and scored a try in Ireland's famous win over the All Blacks in the competition in Manchester. Having started his rugby journey with the Connemara All Blacks, Heffernan can claim to have scored for and against the All Blacks!
Incidentally, Connemara didn't get their nickname from their New Zealand counterparts but rather from a fishing fly called the Connemara Black.
With the likes of Mairead Coyne, Tiernan O'Halloran and Oisín Heffernan to look up to and new facilities to look forward to, Connemara RFC are well set up to continue producing talented players despite the club's limited catchment area.
Address: Monastery Field, Clifden, Co Galway.
President: Peter Keane
Head coach: Henry O'Toole
Captain: Barry Gibbons
This article originally appeared in the Irish Independent's Connacht Rugby supplement which is available in newsagents every Friday throughout the season.