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From threat of oblivion to a new era: Connacht Rugby’s great comeback



It’s some time during the last week, and everywhere in the sports pages of all the national newspapers, one of the big stories is the wonderful news that the Sportsground in Galway – home to Connacht rugby, and indeed to the Galway greyhound racing track – is to get a €30m facelift.

  Coming not that many years after the rugby hierarchy tried to do away with the aforementioned Connacht rugby altogether, it was certainly great and very welcome news.

  And as I looked at the impressive plans and thought of the new 12,000 capacity stadium, together with a new high performance training centre for Connacht, it was hard not to let my mind drift back to the days in the late 1970s and early ‘80s when we, Creggs Rugby Club, used to appear there almost every year in some final or other.

  There is no doubt that it was a very basic rugby ground at that time. Our first major milestone was only three years after our foundation when we reached the Junior Cup final, only to lose narrowly to a great Ballina team. The two things that stand out in my memory of that day are that we togged out in the Old Corinthians dressing rooms on College Road, and of Aubrey Bourke, the Ballina captain – brother of Mary Robinson, our then future President – coming to visit us after the game (I can remember him having to stoop quite a bit to get into the tiny Corinthians dressing rooms).

  Aubrey was a very imposing man who had played senior rugby for Dublin Wanderers and Leinster, and I recall being greatly honoured that he took time out to call in to talk to us. He told us we were a team that was well capable of winning a provincial title, but in truth I don’t think either he or we believed it.

  Now, all these years later, I am still trying to figure out, firstly why we didn’t tog out in the Sportsground (maybe they hadn’t any dressing rooms at all then, as I think Ballina togged out in the Skeffington Arms Hotel), and secondly how Aubrey managed to track us to the bowels of College Road. He was to die very soon after that, a victim of cancer, but a year later we fulfilled his prophecy by winning our first ever Junior Cup.

  Funny enough that final couldn’t take place in the Sportsground (for some forgotten reason) and we beat Tuam in the final in Glenina, the home of Galwegians, where we sneaked home courtesy of a highly dubious try, scored late on by yours truly. My brother Peadar converted to give us a flattering but tremendously exciting victory.

  For several years after that we played Cup finals and League finals, mostly in the Sportsground, winning some, losing some, but ever and always the overriding factor was the weather. It nearly always blew a gale straight down to the road end, and the truth is that there was no other pitch in the province that we disliked as much. And yet, for those years it was also a magical experience – playing in front of our own hugely committed supporters, and, win or lose, we would head back to Sean Donoghue’s in Abbeyknockmoy. The singsong would start there (and it would always be a much longer stop than it was meant to be). On then to the village, oftentimes after another stop in Ballygar, and I suppose nearly forty years later it’s no harm to tell you now that on those nights official closing time would not really be observed. In fact it could nearly be said that no closing time was observed.

  The remarkable thing was that all the big celebrations were on Sunday nights, so I would imagine there was fairly severe absenteeism on the Mondays of that era!

  Anyway, it’s nice to know that the Sportsground will get a much-needed facelift over the next year or so, but I wonder will they ever get the wind to behave itself in the Galway venue. I have the feeling that no matter how much money is spent, the gale will still be the dominant factor in the Sportsground.

  It would be great to get back there soon for another final appearance, and without tempting fate, I think our present team is more than capable of breaching the twenty-six year gap since we last won the Junior Cup.

Michael Buble to retire?

While I don’t go to concerts – despite continually planning to – the one artist I would really like to see live would be Canadian superstar Michael Buble, but judging by an announcement in this weekend’s papers it seems that I am never going to get to see him.

  In a recent interview he tells how the battle of his young son, Noah, with liver cancer made him question everything to do with his career, and how he has become embarrassed by his ego, and at 43 years of age he is retiring after the release of his next album. I know he certainly has enough money to live very comfortably for the rest of his life, but even though he will never sing for me now, it’s good to know that sometimes even the wealthiest and most successful of showbusiness people can see through the shallowness of their lives and realise there has to be more to it. His son is progressing well, and I hope Michael and his wife, Luisana, can live the normal happy life they so obviously want, and I wish them well. I’ll have to make do with wee Daniel.

My new billionaire friends…

For the last few weeks Eamonn Holmes and his wife, Ruth Langford, have presented a documentary series showing how the many billionaires around the world spend their money, and it has been totally fascinating and amazing to see the lifestyles that some people have.

  Among the more interesting ways of spending outrageous amounts of money was in a bar in London where a single cocktail costs £8,845, and the instance of an Irish barber, also in London, who charges £1,000 for a haircut. We saw yachts bigger than football fields, private jets with the most luxurious interiors you could imagine, one collection of vintage cars worth more than £15 million, and millions of pounds’ sterling worth of jewellery.

  When all was said and done I said to myself I wouldn’t fancy the billionaire lifestyle. That by the way was a lie, but the only way I’ll ever see any of it is on the telly. It’s a series that I have really enjoyed – if you get a chance, try and watch out for it.

And finally…

Finally for this week, on Wednesday night of last week at a little gathering in Dowd’s in Glinsk, we handed over €5,140 – the proceeds of the recent fundraising dance – to be divided equally between the Lourdes Invalid Fund and Cancer Care West.

  It was a tremendous response by the people of the parish. Once again, thanks to everyone who helped in any way. On the night, amongst loads of others, it was a privilege to be joined by two hearty octogenarians, Lily Timothy and Bina Harris – Lily heading off the next morning to Spain to celebrate her 86th birthday – and Bina looking forward to reaching the same age in June.

  It was a huge delight to meet both of them, but especially Bina, who has been a little under the weather recently. All I can say is may they carry on for many more years to come!

Till next week, Bye for now! 

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