Towards a century at the heart of Connacht rugby

Category: Profiles (Page 1 of 2)

Ryan Smith profile

Galwegians’ Ryan Smith has flourished in his first season in sky blue, heading into the play-offs as Wegians’ top scorer of the season with ten tries. Ryan has been a key part of Galwegians’ promotion push this season as part of a formidable front-row partnership with Jack Winters and Garyn Daniel.

We spoke to Ryan recently, and had him reflect on his inaugural season in the AIL with Galwegians.

Most of Ryan’s family had limited interest in rugby so it was only during his time in school that he began to appreciate the rugby lifestyle. He looked up to the rugby greats of the time with Ryan recalling the times watching videos of Brian O’Driscoll and Jonah Lomu.  

Ryan joined the Blues from Corrib RFC where he played a majority of his rugby growing up. At the age of eight he joined the team alongside his school friends. After spending a few years in the higher age groups, he dropped to his own age group where he began to excel on the field. 

When he was sixteen, he got the opportunity to play interpro rugby with Connacht at U17s and went on to play for every age group up to U19s. It was here that rugby became more than just a passion for Ryan.

“From there, I decided to take rugby a bit more seriously and I have been enjoying it, taking it as it comes”, said Ryan.

The U19 campaign from last year was a particular highlight for Ryan where he was alongside current teammate Cian Brady. Playing in the Sportsground was an extraordinary experience and getting a win against Ulster during the campaign was the cherry on top. 

“Playing in the interpro tournament during the summer was the highlight. Putting on the Connacht jersey and running onto the Sportsground, it was very cool”. 

Ryan has been one of many new additions to a squad that is full to the brim of young talents throughout the field. His motivation to keep improving comes from his own team and attributes most of the tries he has scored this season to his team. 

“It comes from the team. Everyone on the team is self-motivated in every training session, so it’s the amount of energy that comes from the team. It’s a great group of lads and when you’re enjoying your rugby, you play well”.

Ryan has a wealth of experience on either side of him in the front row, with the captain and Galwegians veteran Jack Winters and Welshman Garyn Daniel. Ryan has relished playing alongside both players and learning from his coaches and the bank of knowledge they have. 

“It’s great having lads with that kind of experience. Every training session they are both giving me tips with scrummaging, and lineouts. Garyn obviously has huge experience in Wales and Jack played for a few teams with the Connacht Juniors and Ballinrobe. They both have so much to give in every single training session so you are always learning something new”. 

 “In every training session, Jarred Butler, who’s a great coach, has us doing lineouts before training and during too. When you practice that much, it’s hard not to get good at it.”

Reflecting on the season as a whole, Ryan has enjoyed his first outing with Galwegians although he feels there were some moments that they could have achieved more. 

“It’s sickening looking back. There are definitely been a few games where we have dropped off. I think it was a mental thing where we switched off, took off foot the throttle and let teams come back.”

Two of those games came against Bruff, against whom Galwegians square off in the AIL Division 2C Promotion playoff semi-final. Ryan says the team are eager to settle the score against their rivals.

“I’m confident that if we keep our discipline and stop conceding penalties, then we stand a very good chance of making it through to the final.”

Ryan continues to strive towards the highest levels of rugby and will take the challenge to Bruff this weekend as Galwegians look to return to Division 2B.

James Deacy profile

The Deacy surname is prominent in the illustrious history of Galwegians, and now James Deacy is making his mark as one of the fourth generation of Deacys who have played for the Blues.

This season, James has captained the Men’s Seconds side to promotion back to the Connacht J1B League and silverware with the Curley Cup Shield. This makes for a great opportunity to sit down and chat with James to hear about being a Wegian.

The lineage of the Deacys goes back to the 1930s when Jack Deacy was one of the early captains for Galwegians. James’ grandfather Bobby was then heavily involved with the club and became President of the IRFU in 1996 right at the time when Irish rugby transitioned from amateur to professional structures.

However, James’ journey didn’t begin in Sky Blue. Instead, he started his playing days with Oughterard RFC since his father Norman was one of the leaders in expanding the footprint in the village on the edge of Connemara in 2004. The rugby development of James and his brother Rob coincided with the growth of the new club.

Those early days were reminiscent of earlier days in our city club, with training on pitches with no posts and limited club facilities they had.

“Back then it was real grassroots rugby,” said James. “Rocks were labelled with cones and there were no posts. All of our matches and blitzes were away. You had to want to be there, and love to be there to play”. 

James treasured his time at Oughterard, playing with his brothers throughout the ranks of youth rugby. He even won the Bobby Deacy Memorial Cup at U17s, which was established for matches between Oughterard and Galwegians in honour of his grandfather’s legacy. 

Oughterard has always retained strong links with Galwegians, so it was natural that James would move to Galwegians to play for the U18.5s in their Cup campaign.

One of the people to whom James says he owes much of his success to was academy coach and former player Morgan Codyre.

“The first hand I shook was Morgan’s and I owe a lot to him. The wealth of knowledge I got from him was massive as he coached me for four years. He knows the game inside and out, and he worked on me so much on kicking and passing. He played at Ten like myself and I learned so much from him.”

James also had the opportunity to learn from other players and coaches during his time with Galwegians, including Andrew Browne and Jarrad Butler who have an abundance of experience with Connacht. “I think it’s so good to have resources around you and be surrounded with people who really want you to get better and want you to succeed”.

James then got the opportunity to expand his abilities as a player by spending the last two summers in Canada playing for the Toronto Arrows Academy, one of the bedrocks of MLR in North America. 

Coming from a big rugby family, James also praises his family for the support he has been given growing up. His father Norman has been with James every step of the way from their beginnings in Oughterard to managing his first game at senior level for Galwegians. 

James also highlights his mother as a significant inspiration for his career and having done so much for him. 

“My mother has done so much for me. She would fly under the radar but even when we played in Oughterard, I remember a time when the pitch was closed and there were 18 lads training in our garden. When we came back inside, she fed every one of them and she has always backed us no matter what, making sure we were well fuelled”.

“She has been absolutely massive for me, and has always backed no more than my auld lad. The two of them just backed me the whole way if I wanted something done”. 

James’ first AIL cap against Bangor recently was a momentous occasion for his rugby career. He not only represented his club at senior level for the first time, but he also added to Galwegians history by playing alongside his brother Rob as one of only six sets of brothers that have played alongside each other for the First team.

James and Rob obviously developed their skills together from a very young age in Oughterard and played together throughout the youth age grades until they both joined Galwegians. They often played together as a scrum-half/fly-half combo as a fierce partnership, although Rob now plays in the centres.

“Having Rob outside me put me at ease when I got to come on for my AIL debut. With Andrew Sherlock at 9 and Rob at 12, it makes it so much easier once you play with lads that have been there with you for a long time”. 

“I have trained with this AIL senior squad for three years now. To be able to get an AIL cap alongside Rob is something that so many would love to do. I was very lucky to do it, especially in the fashion we did it”.

This season, James has been at the forefront of Galwegians Seconds success with an unbeaten run in the league phase of the J1C division and victory in the Curley Cup that doubled as his grandfather’s Memorial Cup match in the Sportsground. He has previously captained Galwegians sides at U18.5 and U20s, but to lead one of the adult squads was a huge honour.

“To captain any Wegians team is huge. I got to captain the U20s and I thought we were really successful. Many of those players went on to play and start in AIL. To captain the Seconds was huge, and it is a massive feeder system for the AIL. If you’re not playing on the Saturday, you are playing on the Sunday with the Seconds”. 

“This year, the Seconds has turned out to be a very club-oriented team. We had people come down from the Firsts to play, and there have been guys trying to get into the Firsts by grinding it out. The U20s are coming in if they aren’t getting game time and the Thirds have been giving us a dig-out. I think the Seconds have really brought the club together this year”. 

It is true that there have been many players from across the club that have contributed to the ambition of the Men’s Seconds this season. Players like Ronan Kennelly coming in from Connemara, Sam Feely, Nicky Lawless, and even head coach Brendan Guilfoyle who is still putting in a shift for the Blues at 39. Hugo Gens and Mike McColgan who play off the bench for the Firsts can still wake up every Sunday for the Seconds.

“The success definitely isn’t down to me as a captain, not at all.  I might just get to lift something at the end. It’s a 20-23 man game”.

It was a bitter blow for the Seconds to not get automatic promotion despite a flawless league campaign after their loss in a promotion play-off against Creggs RFC. But, true to their spirit, they dusted themselves off and came back to re-energise as a stronger unit in a redemption game against Corrib.

“We knew we were not a J1C team and we deserved to be in J1B. There were a few fragile men on Paddy’s Day after the Races on Friday, but the defensive set was massive. We went up to Corrib with sixteen men, and I don’t think you could fault anyone on the day. We were 7-0 down at half-time and everyone put their bodies on the line. We were able to seal the deal and I never met a set of players that deserved it more”. 

James is off to Canada next September to begin another chapter in his career. He is always keen to latch onto an opportunity when it arises and is looking forward to another journey abroad.

“I’m really enjoying the rugby I’m playing with the group of lads that I’m with now. I’ve made some great friends in Canada and I’m really excited to go back”. 

“Will  I stay there? God knows! I will be over there for a while but I have no doubt that I will definitely, definitely be back in a Wegians jersey in the future. Alongside Rob, again”.

Hugh Gavin and Finn Treacy in final 6N round

Ireland U20s have enjoyed a successful Six Nations campaign thus far, with plenty of exciting talent within the ranks. Two of our own have made an impact on this year’s championship and hope to put on another sterling performance in the final game against Scotland in their pursuit of the title.

Hugh Gavin and Finn Treacy have shined in this year’s tournament with this year being Hugh’s second tournament under Richie Murphy where he played an integral part in their Grand Slam win and World Rugby U20 Championship campaign. 

Meanwhile, this is Finn’s debut in a green jersey and has certainly stepped up to the plate with some strong performances throughout the competition.

Their Six Nations journey began in the Stade Maurice David where they got their revenge over the French after defeat in the U20 Championship final in 2023. Both Wegians etched their name on the scoresheet with Hugh taking the lead in the 52nd minute with a line break. Finn would score Ireland’s fourth with some clever footwork to kick the ball into the try zone and would help secure vengeance over the French. Ending 37-31, it was a cracking game of rugby and a star-making performance from Hugh who won the Player of the Match award. 

Their game against the Italians would be even tighter with a narrow 23-22 win over tricky opposition. Both players started and had to dig deep to win with a late 74thminute winner sealing the game for the Irish. 

Thankfully, it was a less stressful affair for the lads when they took on Wales in round 3 of the championship with a 43-7 victory. Both Hugh and Finn played their part with Hugh scoring Ireland’s second try of the game while Finn assisted Ben O’Connor’s late try with a superb line break and carefully weighted pass to put Ben over. 

Their greatest challenge came against the English who led the way with three bonus point wins in succession. After finding themselves 10-3 down in the first ten minutes, Treacy brought the Irish back into the game. On the end of a perfect cross-field kick, he burst past the English fly-half and dotted down behind the posts for his second of the tournament. Both teams gave it their all in a nailbiter, and the Irish snagged a last-minute try to secure a 32-all draw in Bath.

The Irish are one point behind England who will play France in the Six Nations finale. Meanwhile the Irish will finish their campaign at home to Scotland.  Both players had played their part in this championship, scoring two tries and Hugh in the top 5 for carries and metres for the tournament. Having started every single game, they will certainly be in action this weekend as they look for a third U20s Six Nations in a row.

Tiarnan Neville profile

Ever reliable off the tee, Tiarnan Neville has been an ever-present figure in Galwegians’ First team at fly-half as the Blues continue their promotion push. Joining this season, Tiarnan has played in every corner of the globe from Australia to South America. This week, we talked about his eventful career and what the future holds with his ambitions to go professional. 

Coming from an Irish-Canadian family, Tiarnan was born and raised in Hong Kong where he spent the majority of his life. He started playing rugby at six years old, playing for DB Pirates which is  based on the island of Lantau. He would then join USRC Tigers RFC at U12s, which is one of the top teams in the Hong Kong Premiership, the highest tier of club rugby in the country. 

At youth level, he would be selected to play in an annual rugby tournament on New Year’s Day as part of a combined Hong Kong “all-stars” team that plays a team consisting of all the clubs from the peninsula of Hong Kong. Later on in his career at U16, the Hong Kong side would play an Overseas team, consisting of boarders and players who travelled abroad to train for a week and play against the Hong Kong side.

Tiarnan explains how this allowed him to represent his country at international level. “Those who were training with the Hong Kong select team get selected and do trials for the Hong Kong U18s for sevens”, said Tiarnan. “If you are good enough at 18, you get the opportunity to play with the U20s”. 

Tiarnan would go on to represent Hong Kong at underage level, including captaining his country in the U18 Asia Rugby 7s Championship and being a part of two U19 Asia Rugby Championships which qualified Hong Kong for the U20 World Rugby Trophy tournament in Brazil, a “standout moment” in Tiarnan’s early rugby career

 “The whole experience playing at Brazil for the U20 World Trophy, even if the result didn’t go our way. It was my first opportunity playing as an 18-year-old starting at my preferred position at fly-half”.

As a fly-half, Tiarnan is always looking to perfect his craft in all aspects of his game, especially with his kicking game. You can often find him on the grounds of Crowley Park working on his technique. 

Even though he grew up on the other side of the world, his Irish roots saw him playing GAA and played the sport throughout his youth. Every summer, he would play in Wexford and even achieved a couple of games for his county at underage level.

“Kicking from hand has always been a natural thing for me, I have quite a big boot. Obviously, the place kicking is very different but I try to practice as much as I can. I’d look at the kicks I missed from the previous games and my technique”. 

“For me, it’s more of a concentration thing, I have the ability to get it over the posts and kick it with the right part of your foot. But when you are on the pitch and you’re tired and fatigued, going through your processes and actually focusing on your technique. It just becomes maintain your consistency”. 

Despite not being juggernauts in the world of rugby, rugby in countries like Hong Kong or Tiarnan’s second home of Canada are continuing to blossom more and more. With the close-knit nature of these rugby societies, Tiarnan feels that it’s a rewarding place to play rugby.

“Usually when you’re playing in countries like Hong Kong or Canada, you are going to come across teams that don’t have such high-quality players, but it’s not too different to any other country you play in”. 

“It’s a sport that’s always growing and because that it’s such a niche sport, the community is always growing and the people in it are very welcoming, always offering to help you out. It’s similar to Ireland because it’s a small community and everyone tries to help each other out”.

Tiarnan would eventually leave Hong Kong to attend university in the UK, enrolling in Durham University where he would play rugby for their third team, such was the competitiveness of rugby in that college. 

Admittedly, not developing in a rugby academy like a majority of his teammates his age proved challenging to get exposure and make a name for himself. But Tiarnan wouldn’t change his early life in Hong Kong for the world and would overcome these obstacles. 

“By the time I went into university because of external circumstances I wasn’t thrust into the first team at my university because it was the best university in the country for rugby. You have to assess the situation, would I trade growing up in Hong Kong to growing up in Ireland playing in a rugby school. I don’t think I would. But it’s 100 per cent more difficult to get noticed if you are not in the system”. 

Being half-Canadian, Tiarnan has his eyes set towards North America as an avenue for the future as he looks to carve out a career in Major League Rugby, the continent’s highest level of club rugby.  

“My aspirations are to play in the MLR and I went to Canada to make a name for myself, to get in with the right people and see how it goes. It’s not that different if you’re playing for the high-level clubs like the team I was playing for, which happened to be the league champions two years in a row”.

“We had very good athletes, very smart people playing for us. They were very accepting of what I was trying to accomplish and very quick to catch on”.

Tiarnan’s last club before joining Galwegians was in Canada where he got to play with the Toronto Arrows senior academy. It was here where Tiarnan had another career highlight, winning the Coast to Coast Cup last year.

“That was a big thing for me because as I said before, the community here and the friends that you play alongside, the small nicheness of the sport in Canada made winning feel even better. We lost both of the games last year, so this year felt like a slight upset when we won”. 

Galwegians wasn’t Tiarnan’s first taste of AIL rugby as he played briefly in the top tier of club rugby with Terenure College in Division 1A. Despite only playing two games,

“I played most of my time with the seconds and even then, most of the players I played with would play for the firsts for the next year, including next year’s AIL Player of the Year and some guys that are now playing in the MLR”.

“The game I played against Cork Con in the AIL, there were about ten guys that played at professional level or had played for the Ireland U20s. It’s just another level in terms of honing your skills”. 

We fast-forward to the present where Tiarnan has played every game for Galwegians in the AIL, with great consistency off the tee as they sit second in the league. Tiarnan has been happy with the positive style of rugby played this season and is optimistic about their chances of promotion. 

“There have been some stumbling blocks but our biggest thing is accuracy in the right areas. I don’t think many teams would be offended if in the games we lost or drew, we played the better rugby”. 

“We do play an attractive brand of rugby which comes with its faults in terms of accuracy issues. But we want to go out there and play good rugby, we don’t want to go play your stereotypical 2C rugby. We are aiming to get promoted into 2B and when you get there, you will be playing against better teams”. 

“Going into the rest of the season, we got to focus on the big moments and push our last few results behind us. We have to focus on what we can control and playing at 100 per cent for all of the games”.

With an eye towards the future, Tiarnan wants to be the MLR as his primary ambition but has eyes towards other opportunities in the world of rugby. 

“I’m very pragmatic with my attitude towards rugby, it’s my passion, it’s what I love. But if I don’t make it in the MLR, I would be happyreturnback to Galwegians, doing something similar to where I am now”. 

“I would look into other avenues of professional rugby. I’m into coaching, I coached the U17s at Galwegians. I’m into refereeing, I’m an affiliate referee and I’ve refereed games for U16 and U17 games and at the university”. 

“Ideally I would love to stay in rugby, and work on being a coach if professional rugby doesn’t work out. Being a fly-half, game understanding, and game planning is a huge element of my role so I always had an interest and desire to pursue that side of rugby”.

Whatever path Tiarnan takes in the future, he certainly has a bright future in the sport and you won’t be the last you hear of him. 

Jesse Va’asfusuaga profile

Jesse Va’asfusuaga has relished his time here in Galwegians, becoming a key part in Galwegians AIL campaign at flanker as they fight for the title.

Residing from Mosgiel in southeastern New Zealand, Jesse found his love for rugby at the tender age of seven. Coming from a rugby family and taking after his father, Jesse would go to his games and watch on the sidelines. Jesse says this was the main reason he started to take rugby in the first place.

Starting in the junior ranks of tag rugby, Jesse quickly progressed through the grades and found himself playing tackle soon enough. He started to take the game more seriously in his schooldays at the age of seventeen and his passion for the game only expanded from there.

One of his most memorable moments from those days was making the Southland final with Otago Boy’s High School and his native club Green Island in 2020. “It was a pretty big achievement to get to the final and to play in such a big game”.

Jesse has proved to be an incredibly versatile player throughout his time with Galwegians, playing primarily as a blindside flanker but has also some experience operating as a number eight. Jesse highlighted his work rate as a key competency of his game. “I’m also more of an aggressive player and like my game’s ball-carrying side. That would be some of my best attributes as a player.”

After spending many years in New Zealand, Jesse was looking for a new challenge abroad and decided to take the plunge to come to Ireland. Having a friend in the city, he moved to Galway. “I thought I would come over to have another opportunity and to explore the world”.

“Galwegians has been great, everybody has been so welcoming. I’ve made a lot of new friends over here. I do like Galway but it rains a lot over here! The scenery here is nice along with the old buildings. It’s a different vibe to back home but I have been enjoying it”.

Jesse has been playing in the starting XV consistently lately and hasn’t found many problems adapting to the rugby played in the northern hemisphere, stating that the physicality is very similar to back home.

“There are a lot of big guys over here, so I’d say physically it’s similar. I would say the game is faster back home, and there are fewer set pieces but other than that I think the game is pretty similar”.

There is also the aspect of brotherhood, which is a key component to the rugby culture in New Zealand, applies in Ireland as well: “I would say it’s the same all over the world, without your team, you don’t have much at all”.

Jesse has found no problem forming such a bond with his current band of teammates and remarks about the welcoming nature of Galwegians.

“Adapting to a new dressing room has been fine. All the coaches, players, managers and all the people involved have been welcoming and helpful. It’s been easy to fit in and I have made some really good mates”.

Jesse looks forward to the challenge that lies ahead for the final stretch of the season. Despite the recent setbacks with the losses to Clogher Valley and Enniscorthy, he’s determined to get the job done for the Blues.

“I think we can still challenge for the title. At the end of the day, the main goal is to get promoted and the team and the coaches are doing everything they can to get there”.

Finn Treacy profile

As the Irish U20s set their sights on France in the Stade Maurice David this Saturday, one of Connachts’ rising stars will be hoping to make his mark on the international scene and stake a claim on the green jersey. 

Wicklow-born Finn Treacy moved to the Connacht Academy during the summer after catching the eye of Eric Elwood during the Irish U18 schools campaign. “Eric came up here and met with me in Bray”, said Tracey. “We just had a meeting about what they had to offer me down there and we compared it with the opportunity in Leinster. It was just a no-brainer for me.”

The 19-year-old was first introduced to the sport when he joined the Greystones U8 squad. It was where he developed his skill set for the game until his introduction to the Leinster schools’ system with Presentation College Bray.

During his third year of secondary school, Treacy joined the Leinster schools programme, playing with their U17s. Despite being dropped from the Leinster U18s squad, Treacy had shown enough potential with ‘Pres Bray’ to earn his place in the Irish U18s Schools panel and returned to Leinster for their U19s season, narrowly missing out on an Irish tour to France through injury.

Following his move to Connacht, Treacy joined Galwegians RFC, playing a pivotal role in their title fight in the AIL Divison 2C. He has started ten of their twelve games this season, appearing both at centre and on the wing. “I feel like my level has gone up not only through Connacht but through ‘Wegians as well”.

Treacy admits he didn’t need much convincing when it came to joining Galwegians. “I would have known ‘Wegians as a big club, although they are not where they want to be at the moment. But when I spoke to the coaches they mentioned ‘the rebuilding’ as they called it, with the team they have now. It’s a great team playing some really exciting rugby at the moment.” 

Treacy’s thriving in the Irish camp with high praise for head coach Ritchie Murphy. “The environment that Ritchie Murphy creates is class you’re excited to go to every time.” With squad selection up for grabs, Treacy is relishing every opportunity that comes his way. “It is a great environment to be in with quality everywhere you look. So it will be really tough to pick a squad out of that bunch, but that’s what fuels you and motivates you”.

He also has the opportunity to play alongside his Connacht and Irish team counterpart, Hugh Gavin, who will play alongside him in this year’s tournament. Treacy believes that his familiarity with Gavin’s playing style is a massive benefit within the Irish squad: “Just having that connection with him not only in Connacht but playing with him in ‘Wegians it even translates over to the training games as I sort of know how he operates. Especially his experience. He has done it all last year, won the grand slam and got to the World Cup final, so just chatting to him and getting bits of advice brings my game on.”

Having received a debrief from the former Irish U20s captain from the 2022 campaign on what to expect in France from the French and the crowd, Treacy emphasises the importance of belief within the team. “You can’t really prepare yourself for something like that you just have to have that sense of belief not only in your teammates but the belief that you can win”.

Treacy is confident in his team’s ability as they gear up to face last year’s World Cup winners on home soil and set down a marker. “Seeing how we’re flowing and connecting is exciting stuff. As a team, we want that grand slam”. 

With 4 AIL tries for Galwegians and one for Ireland in the pre-Christmas warm-up game vs Italy, Treacy has a nose for the try line and if he is selected for Saturday’s clash, he will be eager to build on his tally throughout the championship.

Hugo Gens profile

One of our new recruits this season is French rugby player Hugo Gens who has made a big contribution as Galwegians fight for the AIL Division 2C title.

Hugo is studying in Ireland for the year and talked about his career in rugby to date, university life in Galway and his time in Galwegians as a whole.

Residing in the south of France, Hugo took up the sport at the tender age of six years old for Pezenas. At fourteen he joined Montpellier Hérault Rugby at underage level. Montpellier currently play in the French Top 14, the most elite division in the country.

Hugo was inspired by the Montpellier teams of the early 2010s as he was growing up and says that “it gives you great motivation to see your team playing in the Top 14”. 

“When I was young, I always supported Montpellier and it was a big season in 2011 when they went to the final against Toulouse. We lost to Toulouse but it was a great season and it really inspired me with all the young French players in the squad”. 

Hugo had to deal with adversity in the early days in the Montpellier academy where he was sidelined for a year and was not playing the sport for a long period of time. But Hugo used his return as fuel for motivation.

“After this, I began to enjoy rugby more and more. It was great for me to be part of a team and to share great memories. That’s why it was great to come to Wegians, to be part of a team with great young players”.

Playing for over seven years, he got his big break playing for Montpellier, playing in 2021 for the senior squad with three games in the Top 14 and two friendlies. It was a very proud moment in his career to accomplish his dream to play for his boyhood club.

Afterwards, he moved to a small club called Millau before making the next step in his career by joining Galwegians for this season after talking to former Ireland international Justin Fitzpatrick about the history of the club. Hugo mentioned this moment as a big reason to join the club. 

“To come here to Ireland, it was a very new experience for me to be integrated into a team like this. I’m really proud of this to come into the team, a totally new experience for a young player like me. I’m very grateful to play for this club”. 

“Rugby was a main factor, I have some friends who told me about Ireland and Galway, saying it was a nice city. Also to speak English for the year for my journalism course was very important to me”. 

Hugo says he’s enjoying the university lifestyle in Galway, commenting on the friendliness and openness of the Irish people. He’s grateful to enjoy experiencing a new culture and a new city while having to the chance to play rugby at a competitive level. He has realised that the weather is slightly different to the south of France! 

Hugo has also noticed the style of rugby can be different in Ireland and he had to adapt somewhat to perfect his game. 

“There are some similarities but some big differences. The maul doesn’t play well in France compared to here, and the technical plays like the rucks and turnovers are played very well. Sometimes in France, it is a little bit more rough with the physicality.”

Hugo found himself very welcome in the Galwegians dressing room and has enjoyed the bonding experiences with his club. 

“It’s a little bit different to France. It’s really great that we stay together after a game with the clubhouse and have some banter together. That’s a great culture for new players. It’s also great to have the president and former presidents all together at the games because you don’t really see this in France. To have this close proximity in Ireland is great”.

While he is enjoying his time in Galwegians, he is also focused ahead of the final stretch of the AIL season to ensure that the Blues remain favourites for the title. 

“We know that the two big matches are these next two away games in a row against Clogher Valley and Enniscorthy. The Clogher Valley game was very hard when we lost at home so we know we need to win these next two games. We are in great shape for them, but we know it is one of the big moments of the season, if not the biggest moment.” 

Hugo will never forget the time had in Galway and would recommend students playing rugby like himself to travel aboard and have a taste of the experiences he has had “for inside and outside of rugby”.

Jack Winters profile

Leading by example in the sky blue shirt, captain Jack Winters is commanding the pack as Galwegians return to AIL action following the Christmas break as league leaders. Prior to the match at Ballina this weekend, Jack Winters sat down to discuss a storied career for the Blues thus far.

From county Mayo, Jack’s rugby career began and blossomed playing for his local club Ballinrobe RFC, where he harnessed his skills at underage level before eventually progressing into the senior squad. 

In 2017, Jack got his first big break with a call-up to the Connacht junior team and started to attract attention from the Galwegian coaching staff. Brian ‘Beano’ McClearn made the call to Jack to ask if he wanted to join the club where he would be plucked into the first team.

“Beano got onto me”, said Jack. “Galwegians were in Division 2A at the time and he asked me to come up and join the team. At the time, I was working and living in Galway so it felt like a no-brainer”.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, it was a big step up in standard for me. But I felt I really relished in the role and ended up starting most games”. 

Starting as a number eight as part of the forwards, Jack has proved himself to be a jack-of-all-trades, exploring a variety of positions to further improve his game.

Now leading at the front as a loosehead prop, it has revolutionised his style of play. 
As a player who has ventured the field through many different positions as a forward, some wisdom he gives to young players is to try out as many positions as possible. 

“It was something that changed my rugby career completely when I switched to the front row. I think the more multifaceted a player can be, the more useful you can be to your squad. Especially in the AIL where you are limited with the number of subs, players that can cover multiple positions are a bonus”. 

Jack has established himself as one of the veterans of the Galwegians First team with plenty of young, promising talents scattered across the squad. But his experience has proved fruitful as he led the squad to the top of Division 2C at Christmas. 

Jack was given the opportunity to become the captain of the Galwegians squad which was an outstanding honour for himself. Jack has relished the role and praised his squad for having such a strong bond and is determined to achieve their maximum on and off the pitch.  

“It was a huge honour to be captain, it was never something that crossed my mind when I first walked into the club. Looking at the club and the massive history it has, to be given the captaincy is an incredible honour”.

“We have a great bunch of lads who are all so self-motivated which makes my job easier. But we back each other on and off the field. There are a lot more than just myself who are constantly striving for perfection in training and on the pitch. To be captain of such a talented group of lads is incredible”. 

Jack has craved success with Galwegians and the wave of momentum the club is riding has been a source of motivation and inspiration to keep pushing and make the next step as a player. 

“This year in particular we have built such a strong squad and we have been playing together at the right end of the table, to be top at Christmas is unbelievable. That has always been a motivational factor was to be successful at the club”.

The highlight of his season was the inaugural game of the AIL season against Tullamore, where Jack and the rest of the team were taking a plunge into the unknown with a revamped squad and their first game after relegation from 2B. 
“We were embarking on a brand new challenge with a brand new squad of players. I didn’t know what my players were going to be like, but we kicked off our season where we wanted to go on with a bonus point win. That game against Tullamore was a very rewarding one”. 

For the years of experience that Jack possesses, he ensures they won’t take their position in the standings for granted saying that “you don’t win medals for being top at Christmas”.

“Every game is huge but the three games in particular will be Clogher Valley, Bruff and Enniscorthy and we hope to get as much support for those matches as possible to travel with us. We will be gunning to win those games”. 

Jack doesn’t look on stopping anytime soon and looks to don the sky blue jersey for many seasons to come, but even when he decides to hang up the boots, he sees himself staying on with Galwegians in one capacity or another.

“I don’t think I would be able to get away from Galwegians, I love it too much. I will help in any way possible, maybe coaching in the future!”.

Jason Craughwell profile

Jason Craughwell has an abundance of experience as a referee, being the man in the middle for nearly twenty-five years and is a well-respected member of the Galwegians community. Working with Galway Sports Partnership, he works with the organisation to increase participation in sports across various age groups.

Throughout his life, he has endured a long career in the world of rugby and took the opportunity to share his experiences as a referee.

Originally from an athletics background, he started to play rugby for his school at the age of 15, before progressing to club level, joining North Kildare. While he was pursuing sports development, he started to volunteer as a referee for a local sevens tournament and quite enjoyed it.

That tournament was seen as a starting block for his refereeing career, as he began training to become an official referee for rugby league and rugby union and started refereeing games. Soon enough, Jason retired from rugby to concentrate more on being a referee. 

For Jason, it was more about giving back to the rugby community and the enjoyment he gets about rugby as he says: “There is an enjoyment out of helping people. If you’re volunteering to help somebody or people, you get that enjoyment.”

“But also you have the best seat in the house, when you’re in the middle of a match you get to see what’s happening. Guys on the sidelines might give out but they can’t see it, you’re close up and personal.”

Jason gets to witness firsthand the development of any underage players that rise up through the ranks, some of them have gone on and played for Connacht, and he helps them develop their knowledge of the game rather than the growth of their skills. 

“You meet people who are starting in their careers just enjoying rugby. But then you have players who may have played international or at a high level who are coming back to play junior and the craic and the fun you can have with them after a game”. 

“The rugby community is great at making you feel welcome. Maybe not when you’re on the pitch and they don’t agree with a decision! But outside of that, they are always glad to see you after it and that’s what keeps bringing you back”. 

A referee needs to facilitate the game as much as possible and within reason. Jason discusses how important it is to interpret the laws. The best games referees have is when they go unnoticed and they “let the players play”. 

Despite abuse being somewhat of a rarity in rugby in comparison to other sports, sideline abuse has started to creep in more often into games. Especially in light of the recent Rugby World Cup where refereeing has been cast into the spotlight, it can be a challenge for referees to deal with. 

“Referees will make hundreds of decisions in a match, we will get some of them wrong. Players and managers will make decisions and some of them will be wrong. We aren’t perfect and we don’t want referees to become robots, games will become start-stop”.

“In fairness, most players and management would say ‘Fair enough, you made a mistake or you didn’t see something’ and they will get on with it. Shouting from the sidelines, I don’t tend to hear it, I’m more tunnel-focused on the game, but there is more shouting from the sidelines”. 

“There only have been a couple of instances over the last couple of years where there has been serious verbal abuse. I hope through education that we can say that certain stuff is acceptable and others’s unacceptable. But most people can accept that you made your best decision”. 

With a career spanning two decades, Jason has enjoyed some standout achievements throughout his career, including refereeing the Connacht School’s Senior Cup Final and also the women’s interprovincial final between Munster and Leinster in one many visits to the Sportsground.

“It was a particularly proud moment in my career to referee in the Showgrounds, I have refereed there a good few times at different age levels and different finals and semis. Those two stand out a lot for me. You have seen players go on to do big things and I suppose it is a thing of pride, it’s something that you are proud of”. 

Even when Jason may call it a day, he still wants to stay involved in the sport of rugby one way or another. There are many different roles in the refereeing association and Jason intends on keeping himself in the game.  

“I’m going to have to maintain my fitness, we can referee until we are 65 then we have to retire. But there are other roles like an assessor or a coach so we have an awful lot of people who stopped refereeing in their forties, acting as referees and coaches”. 

“So you are watching new and upcoming referees and helping them, spotting what they are doing and giving them advice. So not only would we have the monthly meetings which help us be up to date with the laws, we would have these referee coaches that would go and watch games”. 

“At some point, I have three small kids and they are starting to get into sports and playing matches, I expect I’m going to be a taxi driver for the next couple of years! But I still hope to be involved well into my sixties or seventies”.

Jason Craughwell (right) and family with (l-r) Bundee Aki, Councillor Eddie Hoare, Finlay Bealham and Mack Hansen at Galway reception for Rugby World Cup 2023 stars

Justin Wilson profile

Galwegians’ community has a wide variety of players, coaches and volunteers from every stretch of the world, and under-17s coach Justin Wilson is no different. Originally from New Zealand, he has quite a career in the world of rugby.

From the age of five, he started to take up the sport as rugby was one of the most prominent sports in the country. Passionate about the game, his first memories came from playing in the cold, frosty mornings at the back of his local rugby club where the sheep would graze the fields throughout the week. 

Playing for Waipukurau High School Old Boys and Central Sports Club for four years at the underage level, Justin took a hiatus from playing rugby and began travelling Europe with his best friend. Despite many years away, he would get the itch to play again once he reached his thirties.

Justin enjoyed his Galwegians playing career, being a part of the Thirds with some thoughts of moving up the ladder to the Seconds but opted against it. 

“I started playing for Wegians when I was 34 going on 35,” said Justin.  “A friend of mine was playing there at the time so told me to come down”.

Despite time away from the sport, he certainly hadn’t lost any of his skills by winning the Galwegians Thirds Player of the Year in 2015. After seven seasons with the squad, he stepped down from club rugby to pursue a coaching position in the club.

Having a young child rising through the ranks at Galwegians, it gave Justin the incentive to start coaching at the youth level, beginning at under 7s and currently managing the under 17s, and helping bring rugby back to schools across Galway like Callasanctius in Oranmore.

“I’m managing/coaching at the moment, mainly managing the under-17s. We have had eight players come over from Galway Bay last season, and we have quite a big squad now with 35 plus boys playing”.  

“We pulled a few players from Callasanctius secondary school, we had rugby starting up again there. It was a good thing for the rugby community to have rugby back in that school, they hadn’t played for five years.”

With three young sons, Justin will help bring these boys into little Wegians and could potentially coach them in the current youth setup sometime in the future!

Justin understands the importance of developing young players with proper coaching and guidance, learning from his own experiences and progressing through the tiers of youth rugby. Certainly a challenge as growing up, he didn’t receive the level of coaching in modern-day rugby.

“I’ve gone through the under 7s to the under 17s, I’ve every single age category. You get to see them progress from a young boy to a teenager. It’s very important to coach them the right way, not only with rugby skills but to make sure you are there for them in everyday life.”

“Some kids might come down to rugby and might not been having the best day or they might be having difficulties at home so that you can be there for them. On the rugby side of things, I enjoy teaching them what I have been taught, the basic skills and have a good understanding of how to play”. 

Even after stepping back from club rugby, Justin couldn’t shake off the urge to keep playing starting to play tag rugby. Taking a while to find his footing in the Irish rugby landscape, Justin played some tag rugby down at Corinthians, more as a social activity rather than anything serious.

 Stopping for a while when turning forty, he found a post on Facebook advertising a masters league with the chance to represent Ireland in tag rugby. 

Continuing to play in Corinthians and St. Marys, he played for the Galway’s over-forties team, taking on a Limerick side in Dublin. From there, he received an opportunity to play for the Irish over-fifties international side. 

Playing in the Irish side in the 2023 Tag Rugby World Cup, he ended up collecting a bronze medal in the over 50s category, which was an incredible achievement for Justin which goes to show you can never be too old to pick up and start playing! From playing tag rugby in his younger days in New Zealand, it has come full circle for Justin.

« Older posts

© 2024 Galwegians RFC

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑