It has been a journeyman’s career for Rory Parata, playing rugby across the world and still only 29. But Rory got his breakthrough at Galwegians and found himself playing for an immortal Connacht side which went on to win the Pro12 in 2016.
Rory was born in Australia began his playing days in rugby league instead of union. That changed when he moved to Ireland at nine years old and started at Dolphin RFC in county Cork, although he struggled to enjoy rugby union at first because it was non-contact.
After transitioning to soccer for a few years, he eventually got the urge to come back and give rugby another chance with his friends. He made the jump and came into under 14s rugby with Sunday Well where he got his first taste of competitive rugby and it to a Munster semi-final. The team just fell short against Waterpark RFC.
Rory then moved to Rockwell College to play senior cup rugby in his fifth year of secondary school, and broke into provincial rugby with his first cap in the Munster U-18s. Despite not getting called up to the Munster U-19 squad, he was offered the opportunity to join the Connacht Academy.
“I had the option to play for Connacht U-19s,” said Rory. “I did quite well, and earned a cap for the Ireland U-19s. Then I had the decision to go to either Connacht or Munster academy, and I chose Connacht”.
“Then it was that decision of what club to go for in Galway. There were three obvious choices: Buccs, Corinthians or Galwegians. At the time, Galwegians were in AIL 2A although Buccs and Corinthians were 1B. But for me, Galwegians were the only club I knew in the area and had so much history behind it”.
Rory was finally convinced by future team-mate Caolin Blade and his Galwegians career commenced, meaning that he played a part in adding to our history as part of the team that rose through the AIL ranks. Galwegians became one of the best sides in the province and Rory played a valuable part in bringing us into Division 1A at the top tier of AIL.
“It was some of the most enjoyable rugby I’ve played. Amazingly, we took it for granted and we made it from Division 2A to 1B and won 1B. I think at the time we just expected to win all the time, but looking back it was a massive achievement”.
His efforts over the years in Galwegians earned him the opportunity to play for the Connacht senior squad for the first time in 2015. Rory remembers how surreal it was to finally achieve his goal of playing professional rugby as all of his hard work “came to fruition”.
“I think there was a World Cup meaning that Robbie Henshaw was away. So you were looking at the pecking order and thinking you might be in with a shot here. Luckily the pre-season wasn’t a shock as I had the summer to get ready for the season”.
Rory was one of several newcomers playing for Connacht for the first time in 2015 with Sean O’Brien, Peter Robb and Blade also breaking into the Connacht squad.
Never in their wildest dreams did they foresee what was coming as this Connacht side will live in the history books as winners of our province’s first ever major trophy, emulating the underdog success story of Leicester City from 2016.
This was a “freak scenario” in Rory’s eyes. “It was all our first years playing professional rugby and we were part of the squad that ended up winning the Pro12. It was the three or four days after the game that stick with me for the rest of my life. It was an unbelievable experience. I will never get the same buzz again!”.
Rory went on to make 29 appearances for Connacht and scored 25 points across his three years at the club, before starting somewhat of a journeyman career.
This began as he briefly played club rugby in New Zealand alongside Ciarán Gaffney. The two seemed to be inseparable as Rory followed Gaffney to play for Zebre for a season before moving to the UK to play for Cornwall Pirates. He eventually bagged 96 caps across a five-year stint for the English side.
Finally, Rory has returned to his rugby roots in Ireland, playing in AIL Division 1A for Lansdowne RFC. He has made an immediate impact in the opening block of games, becoming the league’s leading try scorer including a hat-trick in the most recent game against Ballynahinch.
“Playing now is more about getting that enjoyment and remembering why you played rugby in the first place, which is quite nice. We are doing well at the moment, but we aren’t looking too far ahead because we have been lucky with fixtures”.
“We are staying pretty grounded and looking at it as sets of blocks. We won our first set of three games and we have another set starting on Saturday. It’s a matter of not getting ahead of ourselves”.