Brilliant rugby in Ballina blitz

By Michael Gallagher

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IN a week when one of Ballina’s greatest ever players ended his long and proud innings in the green of Connacht, Heffernan Park echoed to the symphony of rugby’s new generation.

Gavin Duffy learned the rudiments of the great game on the famous patch of grass on Creggs Road and if he was on the sideline last Wednesday he’d be a proud man.

Seven schools from the North-West had gathered on his old stomping ground for the schools blitz and the sun was high in the sky. There was no better way to spend a few hours.

Local schools Moyne College and St Muredach’s were on hand. Both were clad in red – Moyne sporting scarlet uniforms, Muredach’s in a darker shade of the same colour.

The boys from Our Lady’s in Belmullet were there in their red, black and maroon kit, ready to unleash their fleet-of-foot ball carriers, while the boys in green from St Patrick’s, Lacken Cross had similar plans. Enniscrone wore the famous kit of the All-Blacks as they took on all-comers and Gortnor Abbey were resplendent in their gold and green. The young men from St Tiernan’s were proudly sporting their purple and gold and they could hardly contain their excitement as kick-off time approached.

Soon, the two pitches were awash with colour and immersed in noise. Flying feet danced across the grass, powerful shoulders drove forward, grasping hands plucked the ball from the line-out, diving bodies tackled everything that moved as blue skies decorated the heavens.

Russell O’Brien, Mickey Murphy and Niall Jennings were the men with the whistles while proud rugby men stood along the sideline marvelling at how far the game has progressed in the region.

Rugby is gradually shedding its reputation as minority sport in the region. Had these young players been born ten years earlier they would likely never have had the chance to play the oval ball game. The growing influence of the game outside of the traditional strongholds is testament to the work being done by schools and underage development volunteers such as Russell O’Brien. The recent successes of the Irish national side and the provinces have helped inspire a new generation of players to pick up the Gilbert and run. And if the talent and skill on display on Wednesday morning is any indication, those same provinces and national side can look forward to a host of young stars ascending through the ranks in the near future.

The day was an superb example of sporting achievement. Every team played with verve and vigour; the skills were much better than expected and the understanding of the game was of a high standard. Schools that had never envisaged sending a team out to chase an oval ball are suddenly embracing the sport and Wednesday’s action in Heffernan Park, illustrated the huge potential that is being tapped into.

Russell O’Brien (School’s Development Volunteer)

I’m almost lost for words. This is a massive success. We’re bringing rugby to places it never was before and the students are just loving it. The games were played in high spirits and the skills on view were of a very high standard. There is huge potential in this region to develop the game and the future is very bright. Huge thanks also to everyone associated with Ballina Rugby Club who made today’s event possible. It was a memorable day and I’m a very proud man.

They said it

“We’re bringing rugby to the people. It’s the only way to advance.”

Gerry O’Donnell, Ballina RFC

“There was 11 of us here and we let the smallest fella on the pitch run through for a try. What’s wrong with us.”

A disgruntled player after his team conceded a try to a boy with dancing feet.

“They’ll learn more here today than they would in the classroom.”

A parent proudly watching the action on Wednesday.

“I thought the call was ‘Bike’ but it was ‘Spike’ and I ran the wrong way.”

A confused inside-centre after a pre-planned move broke down. 

 

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