27 February 2019

Women’s Rugby in Connacht is thriving like never before, and now Connacht Rugby is shining a light on all the great work that has been done in the past and is continuing to take place around the province to promote the female rugby stars of the future.
Every week you’ll get to read a bit about every club in Connacht that offers a Girls Rugby programme. You can find out about what they’ve done in the past, how many teams they have, what times they train and who are the people that bring Girls Rugby to life in the club.
This week we have Galwegians RFC, with text and pics with thanks to Carl Blake.

Womens Rugby in Galwegians has been going strong now for over 20 years. From humble beginnings, the idea was first mooted in the Glenina clubhouse during what used to be the annual Easter Squash Interpros in the mid-90’s. Three club members, Stephanie Dowling-Folan, Ann Lyng and the late Rod O’Driscoll agreed to set up a ‘Wegians Womens Rugby team. In their first game they travelled with 8-9 players and had to borrow players from Shannon! But they soon got traction and established themselves on the provincial and national stage.
Senior Honours
Having become part of the All-Ireland First division furniture during this time, the Blue Belles had a long time to wait before finally landing high-profile silverware. Their big breakthrough came in 2011 when they won the Paul Flood (Leinster Cup) Trophy beating Old Belvedere. A strong and largely settled squad led by Emer O’Dowd went on to land three All-Ireland Cup titles in the next five years, with wins over Highfield in 2011 and 2014 and then Cooke in 2016.
International Caps
Stephanie Dowling and Sue Ramsbottom became the first Blue Belles to get an international cap not long after the team’s formation in the late 90’s, with Nuala ni Chadhain following in their footsteps in the early noughties. Fast forward to present day and it is now commonplace for a handful of Wegians to feature in the Womens international squad. In recent years names have included Ali Miller, Sene Naoupu and the long-serving Ruth O’Reilly, and this season's squad includes Blue Belles Laura Feely, Edel McMahon, Nicole Fowley, AnneMarie O'Hora, Nichola Fryday, Mary Healy, Carol Staunton and Mairead Coyne.

Current Season
In recent times playing numbers have gone from strength to strength, and the seniors currently number ca. 50 fielding both a Firsts (AIL Div. 1) and Seconds squad (Connacht League). However like many amateur teams, they are very reliant on support resources and coaches. Connacht Rugby’s Fraser Gow has done an incredible job coaching the Blue Belles since taking over from Bundee Aki who had to take a step back last year, however coaching two squads is a big ask for any individual. The Senior team currently lie sixth in AIL Division 1, having been competitive in most games this season, while no. 8 Denise Redmond is second-highest top scorer in the country.
At underage level things are also beginning to come together. With the influx of some minis who have mixed in with the boys in recent years, this season was the first ever that Wegians are fielding a Girls team at both U14 and U16 age grades. The U14’s are into the Plate semi-final after a comprehensive recent win away to Sligo. The U16’s have battled well throughout a long hard season. At U18s the numbers are lower, so the Blues have joined forces with Connemara Blacks in the Connacht League, however next year the U16s should progress through to this age grade.
So in a period of just over 20 years, the girls have carved out their own identity in Galwegians. While the club itself is now very preoccupied in seeking a new home to cater for its burgeoning playing base, the Women’s game has definitely become a permanent fixture in the club, and long may it continue.