By John O’Sullivan 

 

The recently completed Connacht Rugby and Bank of Ireland For The Love of The Club virtual run/walk raised over €30,000 for Club and Community rugby in Connacht. 

 

Over 2,000 people put on their running shoes in aid of the Connacht club of their choice or —  for the unaffiliated —  club and community rugby in the province generally with all of the money raised going directly to the cause. 

 

The event wasn’t just confined to the four corners of the five western counties, and participants took part in 25 Irish counties and 11 different countries, which shows the breadth of the Connacht Rugby club & community footprint throughout the world.

 

We caught up with some of the international contingent who shared their stories, images of their walking/running route, and how the event helped them stay connected to their clubs and — by extension – their communities in the midst of a global pandemic. 

 

John Gorham represented Connemara RFC from Chicago. The Clifden native said that the For The Love of The Club event enabled him — and his fellow participants, including the 2016 Rose of Tralee — to stay in touch with his home club.

 

“My friends and I really enjoyed our run,” he said. 

 

“We started and finished at “the Kerryman pub” here in Chicago. We ran a 5k course that is used for the running club during the summer.  We kept the runners to a minimum due to restrictions.

 

 “When finishing we settled in for a “couple” of pints to watch Ireland beat England.

 

 “Among our runners was the 2016 Rose of Tralee Maggie McEldowney and a couple of guys from the Chicago Lions Rugby Club.

 

 “I love the fact that events like this help me stay in touch with my club back home. Connemara RFC has always had a place in my heart and with social media, online lotto, and now events like this I can stay in touch and contribute to the club.”

 

John Gorman, centre, and his fellow runners/walkers in Chicago.

 

 

Moving continents, Jonathan Cleary took part in the run/walk in aid of Ballyhaunis RFC in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Cleary was proud to represent the Mayo club, whom he described as a community focal point. 

 

“Ballyhaunis RFC have a long and treasured tradition in the community and are a focal point for many a generation,” he said. 

 

“It’s fantastic to see the progress the Club has made in terms of their underage programmes, facilities, and a wide network that reaches far beyond the town. I would like to wish them every success in the future and look forward to bigger, brighter, and better things once the lockdown has passed.”

 

Jonathan Cleary took part in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

 

Elsewhere, Martin McDonagh ran in aid of Corinthians RFC in Melbourne, Australia.

 

“Connacht Rugby had been a huge part of my life from a very young age being involved with Corinthians and having had the opportunity to work and be involved in Connacht over the years so I found it important to show my support from Melbourne, Australia for a great cause,” he said.

 

Martin McDonagh’s running route through Melbourne

 

Did you know today is Connacht Rugby’s 133rd birthday? Our Senior Marketing Manager Nicola Barrett has been looking back on our history and some of the major landmarks that have brought us to where we are today.
 
The story of Connacht Rugby began on the 8th of December 1885 when six fledging clubs came together in Corless’ Burlington Dining Rooms, 27 Andrew Street and 6/7 Church Lane, Dublin after the first interprovincial match between Connacht and Leinster. The six clubs represented at that meeting were Ballinasloe, Castlebar, Galway Town, Galway Grammar School, Queen’s College Galway and Ranelagh School Athlone.
 
Dr. Richard Biggs, Headmaster of the Galway Grammar School was invited to become the first President of the Connacht Brand of the IRFU.
 
Their ambition? To grow the game of Rugby in Connacht and to provide a platform for our best talent to shine at local, provincial and ultimately international level. Since then little has changed in terms of the aim of everyone involved in rugby in Connacht, only the rugby landscape itself has changed.
 
In the early days, the growth of the game in Connacht was driven by a handful of schools who were playing rugby. As the decades progressed, some competitions had to be abandoned during World War I and also during the War of Independence. Post Civil war is pinpointed as the era when the game really began to take off in the West. Henry J. Anderson was the first Connacht person to play for Ireland in 1903. Later, he became President of Connacht Rugby and in 1927, opened a new sports facility called ‘The Sportsground’ – which remains the home of Rugby in Connacht today.
 
The Interprovincial Championships were first played in the 1946/47 season. The competition was very successful for the mindset it built up in the provinces, and for the opportunities it offered good club players to make themselves known on a national stage. There were also occasional games against teams from Fiji, Canada, Western Samoa, Argentina, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand held at The Sportsground.
 
When the game turned professional in 1995, supporters, crowds and the numbers participating in the game began to grow – as did the number of clubs opening and thriving across the province. Today there are 26 clubs affiliated with Connacht Rugby.
 
There have been highs and lows throughout the rich history of Connacht Rugby, ranging from the Club risking near extinction in 2003, to an ultimate high of Connacht Rugby winning the PRO 12 Trophy in 2016. One thing that has remained a constant is the unwavering support of our fans, schools, clubs, players and partners. As we embark on a journey to inspire a new Connacht, shining a light on all that is great about who we are and where we are from, we have exciting and ambitious plans for the future. A €30m redevelopment of The Sportsground, continued hard work and dedication to grow our numbers at a grassroots level, supporting our schools and clubs, fuelling our Academy’s growth and driving continued success at a Professional level is to name but a few.
 
On this the 133rd birthday of Connacht Rugby, we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their continued support and look forward to many more successful years to come.

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