By John O'Sullivan
With work on a new home pitch scheduled to start soon and the club's underage system going from strength to strength, Portumna R.F.C. are optimistic about their future.
Just under ten acres of land in the town tenants site in Portumna will be developed into the southeast Galway club’s new home, with the pitch development -- which has recently been seeded -- expected to be finished by September next.
The club’s mini rugby programme -- which was founded in 2009 -- is seeing increasing numbers of young players participating. In an encouraging sign of progress and an indication of how well rugby is embedding itself in the community, last season Naise Muldoon became the first player to play for Portumna’s adult team after starting off in their underage system.
President Mark Scannell says that the new home -- moving on from the Castle Avenue pitch that the club has played on since 2004 -- and the increasing interest in underage rugby, as well as former players taking up coaching roles in mini rugby, will help Portumna grow as a club.
The input of Portumna Community School, who have healthy numbers playing rugby at school level, is also important, with Scannell hopeful that many of those players will commit to the Portumna club in the future.
“We’re optimistic. If we weren’t optimistic in Portumna, we’d never open the gates,” Scannell, a former player with the club, said.
“There’s a new Principal in Community School and it’s making a massive difference. There’s rugby in there now and it’s been in there for the last year or so. There is serious interest in there(the Community School) at the minute and there are teachers getting behind it as well.
“The Community School is making a huge difference to us. Last season, and it was a milestone to us, was the first season that a player who played mini rugby for Portumna played senior rugby for Portumna.”
A hurling stronghold, Portumna R.F.C are, however, laying roots down in the community with an increasing number of children of ex-players -- who are also upskilling and becoming coaches -- playing the game.
“But now we’re finally starting to get the kids of players who played for Portumna, which is brilliant,” Scannell said.
“Because they’re coaching(the parents) they have a higher level of knowledge that previous coaches maybe didn’t have because they were new enough to rugby because there was no history of rugby in Portumna.
"We now have a lot of former players coming through as coaches with their children. This changes the coaching dynamic as the coaches are more confident in their own ability. This was not always the case where previously we had dedicated coaches who maybe lacked certain insights to the game having never played."
Girls Rugby is also enjoying a rise in popularity with Portumna, too, with teams being fielded by U18’s and U14’s and many more expressing an interest in playing before COVID halted the season. There are strong numbers also attending mini’s training and Scannell says the club is keen to get more girls involved in Rugby.
“There's a lot of girls coming, but there’s always room for more and we’d love to get more girls teams playing,” the club's President said.
Portumna, who won the Connacht J2 title after defeating Corinthians 22-15 in 2015, are well prepared for the upcoming senior season. Pre COVID, the interest in playing and numbers of players attending training was healthy.
“We were looking good, before COVID. There were a lot of numbers at training and we were looking grand, but obviously, COVID shot us down. We were looking good. We had a lot of new players in, especially at the senior level. The lads were flying it and happy out,” Scannell says of the senior team’s hopes for next season’s Connacht J2 campaign.