A great servant to Ballina Rugby Club was acknowledged and honoured when Pat O’Connor was presented with the Leonard Moran award at a function that was held in the clubhouse at Heffernan Park.
The award is given every year by local business man Leonard Moran to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to sport in the community.
Those previously honoured include Gerry O’Donnell, who was given the inaugural award for his contribution to rugby, and Liam McHale for his achievements in basketball and Gaelic football.
Pat O’Connor’s first involvement with Ballina RFC was as a player in the 1970s and 1980s but soon he was directing his considerable energy and organisational ability to great effect when he became involved in mini rugby committee.
He served on this most important branch of Ballina Rugby Club for 12 seasons during which time the minis grew and expanded and became the template for what is still to this day one of the most impressive areas of the club – both in terms of the football skills imparted to and displayed by the children involved and impressive organisational effort that is made arranging training and blitzes or rugby festivals by enthusiastic mentors and coaches.
Pat was soon asked to join the main committee of Ballina. He went on to serve on this committee for a number of seasons, spending two years as President and eight as Chairman.
As club President he was a popular and well respected figure known in rugby circles throughout the country and as a Chairman he strove to give the club impetus to improve the way it was organised and functioned every year, at every level.
He never allowed any aspect or area of the club to overshadow or lose touch with the others, be that the football side at mini, underage, or senior level or the social, structural or financial side.
Under his direction, any achievement, great or small, was always the catalyst to strive for even greater achievement. He showed his ability to identify areas that needed emphasis or attention and to find the right people to tackle the necessary tasks with energy and enthusiasm.
This season proved very successful for Ballina on the pitch as they came third in the league, runners-up in the Junior Cup and were winners of the Cawley Cup. Great advances were made at underage and mini rugby levels, and the recently formed girls team has made great progress also.
Off the pitch, the club was awarded the coveted Q mark (one of the few junior clubs in the country to achieve this), acknowledging how well run the club is and well set up its systems are.
Pat would be the first to point out that all these achievements are due to the hard work of many in the club, but equally all those involved would be quick to point out how much the organisational skills and support of the club Chairman helped them.
This year Pat chose not to go forward as club Chairman again, but he is still going to be at the heart of rugby in the west as he is currently serving on the Connacht Professional Game Board, where his skills as an administrator will be invaluable for the province during this exciting time when they participate in the Heiniken Cup for the first time.
Pat will, of course, continue to have a keen interest in all that is happening at Heffernan Park, as his sons James and William are members of the current playing panel.
He will be particularly delighted to see the development of new astroturf pitches and all-weather training areas this summer as yet another project which was conceived of during his stewardship becomes a reality.
Pat will no doubt still make valuable contributions as a committee member and it should be noted that the desire and ability to be of service to Ballina Rugby Club run deep in the O’Connor family as this year William won the Clubman of the Year award for his contribution to the club, notably setting up the club website, being actively involved as a fundraiser and as an underage coach as well as a player.
The O’Connor influence seems set to be a positive and welcome driving force within Ballina RFC for some time.
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