A Shannon man to the core, Ross O’Loughlin left Ireland for the sandy landscape of Arabian Peninsula to take up what he thought would be a short-term contract in his chosen profession of quantity surveying.
The arid landscape took some getting used to and the sweltering heat from the almost constant sun was certainly unfamiliar territory for Ross O’Loughlin, who was far more familiar with the sand in Kilkee than the scorching grains of the gulf state of Oman.
It was almost three years ago when O’Loughlin left these shores. Three years on, he has not only acclimatised to the Sultanate of Oman, to give the state its proper title, but also has immersed him in its culture and society.
He joined the only rugby club in the locality, Muscat RFC, and immediately felt at home.
Muscat RFC was formed in 1971 by a number of British ex-patriates who travelled to the country for Government projects, and the club continues to cater for the large numbers of ex-pats, as well as an increasing number of locals who have taken a keen interest in rugby.
The club have had sporadic success in the intervening years with their most celebrated victories coming in the Dubai Sevens which they won on three occasions, the most recent coming over 20 years ago in 1991.
Scrum half O’Loughlin was appointed captain and his experience in playing with Shannon RFC since he was six was of an immediate benefit to his colleagues.
The standard of rugby is what O’Loughlin describes as reasonable, with plenty of good players spread out in the league.
He would equate it to senior seconds rugby back in Ireland and while all sides play to win, there is a great ‘old style’ community spirit among all the competing teams.
Rugby is not the most immediate cultural activity when one thinks of states within the Gulf region, but the sport has been played there since the early 1920s and international games were played under the banner of the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union.
This union encompassed the entire region and included the states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In a move that was not met with widespread approval in the region, the IRB disbanded the AGRFU in 2009 – a move which they felt would promote and develop the game in each of its constitute members.
However, many think this is a retrograde step, including O’Loughlin who feels that local interest is not quite at the level it should be for each country to support an indigenous union.
He is though very involved in setting up the new Oman Rugby Union, but it may take some time. Still, it is not as if he has not plenty in his own club to occupy his time.
Perhaps the club’s finest hour came just a few weeks ago when they climbed to the peak of the Gulf Conference and won the title by winning four of their league format games.
Competition was tight throughout with teams from Al Ain (United Arab Emirates), Toa Dubai, Dubai Wasps (run by Trevor Leota), Kuwait and Doha (Qatar) competing in the league which saw the teams play each other once.
Muscat were in fine form throughout the campaign and were only stopped in their gallop once by Kuwait in a game that was played on a sand pitch which O’Loughlin rather generously describes as difficult.
Most sides in the region have good quality grass pitches, and when faced with a full match on the harsh sand surface it is always difficult to acclimatise.
“A mud bath on the darkest, dankest winter nights in Coonagh would be preferable to playing a full match on sand,” admitted O’Loughlin.
Muscat managed to put that result behind them and travelled to Al Ain to play the decisive final game, which would decide the destination of the Gulf Conference trophy.
Aided an abetted by fellow Irishmen Ronan Glennon from Tullamore, Dan Moloney from Cashel and Dubliner Ciaran Coates, O’Loughlin’s desert warriors managed to pull off a 13-11 victory with Glennon scoring the only try of the game.
The game ebbed and flowed with the home side taking a slender 11-10 lead into the half-time break. Second half scores were slow in coming and it looked as if the Muscat men would board their bus home disappointed.
Five minutes before the full-time whistle though, Muscat were awarded a penalty and the successful shot at goal from Johan De Lange ensured the Oman side could celebrate the club’s first silverware since 1992.
O’Loughlin described the win as a phenomenal achievement for the club, explaining: “We work really hard as a group with players from South Africa, New Zealand, England, Canada, the US and even one Pakistani lad as well as a few local Omani lads all combining to secure the club’s first trophy since the early nineties.
“I’m really proud to be their captain and could never fault the commitment everyone gives to the club.”
That magnificent Conference win was just the first half of Muscat’s season and they now go onto to play in the Gulf Premiership against Bahrain, Doha and Kuwait in a home and away fixture list, so the chance to revel in the success was short-lived.
After spending almost three years in Oman, O’Loughlin naturally misses home and playing for Shannon.
The tradition of the club, which he really had no choice but be immersed in given his mother Brigid and father Gerry are Shannon stalwarts, is something he always misses when he plays rugby.
Asked whether we could see him as an Omani international when the IRB’s four-year residency kicks in, he tends to be a bit non-committal.
“Sure that’s a long way off, and you can never predict circumstances these days. I am extremely happy now with everything in the club and being able to help rugby progress in the region. It’s an adventure, and I’m loving it.”
O’Loughlin played for Shannon since he was six years of age and was a member of the senior panel for a number of years. He won an All-Ireland Cup medal in 2008 before making the move to Oman in 2009.
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