The last few weeks may have been difficult for Galwegians RFC but the strength of the club was clear to see at their Youth Academy Season Finale on Bank Holiday Monday.
Over 250 players and upwards of 400 people turned up at Crowley Park in Renmore on a wet and windy Monday to celebrate another season of enjoyable age-grade rugby at Galwegians.
The weather might have been dampening, and the club has suffered blows with the blocking of its development plans and tragic loss of a popular coach in recent weeks, but this did not reduce enthusiasm at the vibrant Galway club.
Galwegians remains one of Connacht’s premier clubs. Its youth section is amongst the largest in the country and has become a breeding ground for players going on to represent Connacht and Ireland.
This season ‘Wegians’ Youth Academy honoured Rory Cunningham and Eoin McKeown who both played for the Ireland Under-18 Clubs team, and Dave Nolan who played for Ireland Under-20s this season.
The Academy also provides a direct path through to the Galwegians senior team in AIB League Division One and a number of former underage players donned the famous sky blue jersey in Ireland’s top inter-club league this year.
The continuous flow through 30 teams at Galwegians stands as an example of how a club can overcome short-term challenges and flourish.
Their Youth Academy policy of encouraging rugby for everyone wanting to pull on boots is part of the secret behind this success. With over 400 registered players there is clearly pressure on facilities.
But the enthusiastic team of over 50 coaches have fostered a real spirit and strength amongst players who converge from as far away as Headford, Kinvara, Oughterard and even the Aran Islands each week for training and games.
This energy has borne fruit with almost every youth grade team from Under-13 to Under-18 making it into a league or cup final during the season.
Amongst them, the Galwegians Under-13s recorded a comprehensive victory to take one Connacht Cup, the Under-18s confirmed a stranglehold of ‘their’ Connacht Cup for the third successive season, and the Under-16s were league champions and narrowly lost an All-Ireland final.
At the younger ‘mini rugby’ level for Under-7s to Under-12s, clubs like Blackrock and Shannon have recently been sending sides to Galwegians to benchmark their own new generation and ‘Wegians mini teams are regularly invited to Leinster and Munster.
The pinnacle for this age group is the Under-12 squad’s trek to the London Irish International tournament each April where Galwegians teams have been winning trophies and have a reputation for their exciting style of play.
Unsurprisingly, the club’s Youth Academy prize-giving on Monday was a celebration. Silverware was on show and awards were made to recognise club spirit, most improved and player of the season from each youth squad.
Since mini rugby is ‘non competitive’, all mini players enjoyed a moment on stage to receive a goodie bag which included a pin commemorating Galwegians’ victory in February’s Glynn Cup Festival against Corinthians.
Equally important to the success on the field are the hundreds of people involved in coaching, shouting from the sideline, and helping in the backroom.
This year Colette Fallon was celebrated as the Galwegians Youth Academy Person of the Year for her many years of service as a squad manager and helper.
A minute’s silence was also held in respect for long-standing and popular Under-12 coach Audie Murphy who died tragically last week and will be sorely missed.
Galwegians has a strong sense of community and as Youth Academy Director Alan Deegan reminded the crowd, the club will remain at its ground for a few years yet due to the recent decision by An Bord Pleanala to block long-planned development.
This means that that Galwegians community will need pull together to create facilities where it stands.
But one thing is already clear – next season will surely be another one to remember given the strength of Galwegians’ philosophy that rugby is for everyone to enjoy.
Galwegians Youth Academy 2008/09 Prize Winners –
Clubman: Conor Kyne
Most improved: Cian De Lamport
Player of the Year: Jason Mitchell
Clubman: Sean McDermott
Most improved: Ciaran Gavin
Player of the Year: Liam Keavney
Clubman: Vinny O’Dea
Most improved: Oisin Tegeler
Player of the Year: Adrian O’Reilly
Clubman: Jordan Dooley
Most improved: Ronan O’Donnell
Player of the Year: Paul Griffin
Clubman: Michael Touhy
Most improved: Aonghus Hernon
Player of the Year: Frank Shelly