On any given Saturday, there are 150 to 200 youngsters in Dubarry Park in Athlone as part of Buccaneers mini rugby. 

The club’s commitment to getting players involved in the game from a young age is there for all to see. In fact, they have produced several players from their mini programme that have performed both on the provincial and international stage.

Connacht Rugby’s current captain, Jack Carty, started his rugby journey playing in those underage games for The Pirates, as did his brother, USA international, Luke. The likes of Robbie Henshaw, and current Connacht players, Darragh and Niall Murray, are just a few of the many high profile names that also got their first taste of rugby with Buccs.

Read more: Mini rugby in focus: An Ghaeltacht Rugbaí

However, as was pointed out by Rory Walsh, who is involved in organising Buccs rugby minis, mini rugby is about much more than performance on the pitch.

When discussing it, he said: “Minis rugby gives kids a chance to enjoy a great team and make new friends in a fun and safe environment where respect and the participation of all are the key values”.

“With mini rugby, we are trying to teach kids on how to work successfully as part of a team, by instilling a sense of respect in themselves and for others”.

Read more: Mini rugby in focus: Castlebar RFC 

This sense of fun and respect is plain to see for everyone involved in Bucc’s Saturday morning minis. The players, organisers and parents all get to experience and enjoy all that rugby has to offer.

“Coaches, the kids and the parents all work together to generate a great atmosphere on Saturday mornings. It can be a bit crazy at times but the smiles on faces at the end of the day makes the effort worthwhile”, Rory added.

There has been mini rugby in Athlone since the 1970s, with club stalwart Derry Fitzpatrick leading the way. In more recent times, Charlie Cooper is a name that has become synonymous with underage coaching in Buccaneers.

Read more: Mini Rugby in focus Galway Bay RFC 

Since those early days of mini rugby, Buccaneers has been welcoming players and volunteers and this is a tradition that is clearly set to continue into the future.

As Rory states: “We are always happy to see new faces on a Saturday morning whether its new players or new coaches. Everyone is welcome to give rugby a try!”.

Buccaneers mini rugby takes place every Saturday morning at 11am in Dubarry Park in Athlone. New players are always welcome.

Young players from Ballinrobe, Creggs, Monivea and Corinthians got to enjoy the experience of a lifetime recently.
Minis from the four clubs played on the famous Aviva Stadium turf at half-time in Connacht’s URC victory over Ulster.
Here are some of the best pics from that special occasion.

With a growth in the number of girls playing rugby in Connacht, we are delighted to announce the Connacht Rugby’s Women’s U18’s and Women’s Senior Coaches.

Ross Mannion has been appointed Head Coach of the Connacht Rugby Senior Women’s Team, sponsored by Genesys, accompanied by Lyndon Jones as Backs Coach.

Ross was Head Coach of the AIL 2C winning Sligo team, he has worked with Connacht Rugby as a Club and Community Rugby Officer for 10 years and in his current position as Rugby Participation Officer for 2 years.

“I’m delighted with the opportunity to take on this position, I`ve worked with some of the current players many years ago when some of them were starting out on their pathway and have got to know some more through various programs they`ve delivered on these past two years.

The main things that have stood out for me, from these interactions, are their commitment to rugby, be that for club, province or country, and the appetite to learn and better themselves as players. Two fantastic characteristics to have in life never mind in a sporting context, so that really intrigued me as to what the potential is with in the current U18, Emerging Talent and Senior squads.

I hope myself along with all the coaches involved can help all these players reach their potential and fulfil their rugby ambitions or goals.”

Fraser Gow returns as Head Coach of the Connacht Rugby U18’s Team, sponsored by GMIT, alongside Luke O’Donnell as Backs Coach. Fraser expressed his excitement of returning to training and getting back to normal, “First and foremost we are really excited about a return to training, having the ability to get back out on a pitch and un-pause the plans we have in place.”

“It’s fantastic to see examples of players that have been developed by our clubs, progressed through the Connacht pathways and are now playing at the highest level. That is something we should all be extremely proud of but equally motivates us to aid the development of the next crop of talented players out there.”

As Connacht Rugby continue their partnership with Galway-based sports technology services company Clubforce, their Emerging Talent Programme helps bridge the gap between underage and senior level women’s rugby in Connacht.

Clubforce Emerging Talent Head Coach, Emer O’Dowd, is joined by Mary Healy, who has been appointed, Backs, Skills and Attack’s Coach.

Mary Healy adds that despite restrictions, Connacht Rugby aim for this year’s programme to be the most comprehensive yet.

“Every year we’ve always tried to improve and push what we can do in the summer programme. Despite restrictions, we aim for this to be the most comprehensive yet.”

“I’m delighted to be involved with the Clubforce Emerging Talent Squad, I’m looking forward to helping bridge that gap between underage & senior, keeping girls in the game, growing and developing their skills and knowledge so they can take that step up to senior level. My goal and Clubforce’s goal ultimately is to grow participation, this partnership gives us the opportunity to bridge that gap, keep girls in the game and grow and develop them as rugby players.”

Speaking on the appointed coaching team this year, Joe Gorham Head of Domestic Rugby at Connacht Rugby said:

“Absolutely delighted with the appointment of Ross Mannion as Head Coach of the Connacht Women’s Team. Ross, a valued member of the Club & Community team, has an impressive coaching CV built up in the past few seasons and I look forward to seeing him (and his coaching team) bringing the Senior squad to another level.

I am also delighted on the re-appointment of Fraser Gow and his Coaching Team to the Connacht Under 18 Girls squad. Under his leadership, we have made tremendous progress at this level and it is refreshing to see so many young talented girls coming through to the Connacht side from the 4 corners of the 5 counties!

It is fabulous to see that the Clubforce Emerging Talent Programme is ready to get up and running again under the safe hands of Emer O’Dowd and Mary Healy. This sector is vital to the Player Pathway programme for the Women’s Game and huge thanks must go to our valued partners Clubforce for supporting the Talent Programme.

Finally special thanks to our Volunteer Managers of the three squads Natalie Fox & Mark (Barney) Moran. Without their help and assistance, and indeed their passion for Connacht Rugby in general, we would not have made the huge strides that we have made in the past few seasons. Volunteers are the backbone of everything we do in Club & Community. Thank you to every club & school volunteer, we really appreciate all you do for us.”

Connacht Rugby have launched their strategy for the development of the women’s game in the province.
“Women of the West” sets out ambitious targets to increase participation rates right throughout the province and develop the pathway for players to transfer from underage grades to senior adult rugby.
The strategy is fully aligned with the IRFU Women in Rugby Action Plan and is based on the core principle of integration with all departments of Connacht Rugby.
Women’s rugby in the province has seen some significant developments over the past twelve months both on and off the field. The emergence of Beibhinn Parsons to become the youngest ever player capped for Ireland at the age of 16 has demonstrated the good work being invested in the women’s game by clubs like Ballinasloe RFC.
Off the field there has been another first as Anne Heneghan now holds the position of Senior Vice President of the Connacht Branch of the IRFU. In the 2020/21 season Ms Heneghan will be the first woman in any province to be elected President of their home Branch. Furthermore, she has recently been accepted as a Judicial Officer with World Rugby.
Connacht Rugby also recently announced the appointment of a second Women’s Development Officer, with Emer O’Dowd taking up the role to work in conjunction with current WDO Wendy Hickey. O’Dowd will oversee the development of woman’s rugby in North Connacht with Hickey working with clubs in the south of the province.
Commenting on the launch of the strategy, Head of Club and Community at Connacht Rugby, Joe Gorham said: “We are delighted to be publishing our four year strategy, Women of the West. We have engaged with our clubs and schools in the province, along with coaches and people working on the ground to develop the game. That has helped to develop a comprehensive and ambitious plan to grow the game in every area. Our strategy is based on the principle of integration not segregation. We want people from the women’s game to add value not just in the women’s game but in all areas of Connacht Rugby. We already have some incredible players and coaches involved in the game and this strategy is about developing a clear pathway for the young girls of tomorrow to get involved and more importantly to stay involved in playing, coaching or administration”.
The following are some of the key targets set out in the strategy
• 23 Clubs with a Female Mini Rugby section by 2023
• 10 Clubs with a Full Female Rugby Pathway by 2023 (Mini, U14, U16, U18 & Adult)
• 114% overall increase on Player base by 2023 (Additional 735 Players)
• ‘Staying in the game’ programme – This is a fully developed strategic programme aimed at former players and players nearing the end of their playing careers, which allows them to pursue other aspects of the game such as coaching, refereeing and/or administration.
• Introduction of an emerging talent programme
• Designed specifically to address the talent fall off years after U18s
• Build on progress made in the first of this programme in 18/19 (Year-long sponsored programme)
• Aim for 25/30 participants per season with a Transition target of 30% to the Connacht Women Senior Squad.
• Have 2 competitive teams in the AIL by 2023
• Representatives from women’s rugby involved in all sub committees of the Connacht Branch.

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 Gort RFC, with text and pics with thanks to Majella Piggott.

Although Girls rugby is in its infancy at Gladiator Rugby it is going from strength to strength. Gort RFC or Gladiator Rugby has had a boys team for nearly 100 years and always had a strong mini representation. The girls traditionally played with the boys until they reached an age where it was no longer feasible.
It all came to a head in Sumer where two girls had come to a stage where it was no longer possible to play with the boys. One of these girls had played since she was 5 and the other joined the boys at U10. There was no youth team available in the club. It seemed the only option was for these girls to join another club that had an established girls’ team. The topic was discussed on the side line of a U11 camogie match in August 2015 and it became evident that there were a lot of other girls who would love to try rugby. After seeking guidance from Wendy Hickey Connacht Rugby, it was decided that we needed to persuade the legendary Garrett Piggott to take on the girls as his daughter was one of the instigators.

And so, it began in 2015/2016 we had U12 and U10 girls’ teams and numbers were strong. During that time The U12 girls got to play at half time of Ireland Vs Canada game, play the Aviva Blitz, Carton House Blitz and had two trips to the Sportsgrounds for the half time Show. Together with the U10 girls they participated in many regional blitzes. The girls had two great seasons of rugby and fun.
However in September 2017 numbers died off due to girls other commitments and in 2017/2018 season we only had 7 U13 girls and 3 U10 girls (who played with the boys). So, when the opportunity arose to participate in the Give It A Try for Girls in Summer 2018, it was embraced and as a result the 2018/2019 season saw numbers increasing and Gladiators girls had the opportunity to field teams and to compete in several blitzes and competitions.
Our U14 girls under the command of Garrett Piggott and Fraser Donaldson participated in the U14 Connacht League and Cup.

The U10 and U12 train together on a Saturday Morning at 10am at St Colman’s Pk. Training sessions are learning the skills and discipline of Rugby in a fun environment under the guidance of our hardworking coaches Fraser Donaldson, Sean Óg Duffy and Caroline McDevitt.
Being on the border of two counties and two provinces we have girls from Galway and Clare and Connacht and Muster. This also opens the gateway to play teams from Munster as some clubs are closer than most of our Connacht competitors. This year the U14 girls played Shannon RFC Limerick and Ennis RFC. Our U10 girls travelled to Richmond RFC Limerick for the first ever Munster U10 all girls blitz. Our U12 girls also got to play in the half time show in the Sportgrounds at one of Connachts matches where lifelong memories were made.
Traditionally girl’s rugby was not played at the local secondary school, but through hard work by members of the club, the PE teachers Aoife Lynskey and Brian O’Reilly and the CCRO Dermot Tierney this year saw for the first time Gort Community School partaking in an inter school’s competition. They entered a Junior Girls Rugby Team who played and won their first match last week. 20 girls togged out to make history for the South Galway and North Clare Secondary school.

Feedback from the girls and their parents has been positive, the general comment is in relation to the inclusivity of the sport and the great camaraderie experienced among the girls. Some of girls involved with the club also play Camogie, basketball and Gaelic football but fortunately training and matches do not clash because the various sports clubs try and work together realising the benefit one sport has to another. However, there are times after rugby matches you have girls changing to go to another match in another sport. This is also testament to the dedication shown by the girls.
As the season draws to a close we look forward to participating in the Give it a try programme again and keeping the passion quite evident among the girls alive with the prospect of more girls giving it a go. But of course, we would not be where we are today without the Trojan work of Majella Piggott and with her massive efforts recruiting girls and coaches, we have a strong and vibrant group of enthusiastic girls. Watch this space for future provincial and international rugby stars!!!



GALLERY: Bank Of Ireland U18 Girls Cup Final

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