Towards a century at the heart of Connacht rugby

Category: Profiles (Page 1 of 2)

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.

Rory Parata profile

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”.

Erc Dunne profile

Galwegian President Erc Dunne has enjoyed a long and illustrious career, spanning over five decades, starting as a young player bursting through the ranks to his current role as club president. We talked to Erc to discuss what an extraordinary legacy enjoyed here in Galwegians. 

Erc’s first venture into the world of rugby came as a young boy playing in Newcastle, which was steadily growing at the time. A group of parents had organised different sports in the Franciscans for under-nines to get stuck into some activities.  

It was a very unique experience as Erc remarked about the lack of a clubhouse or any general facilities but just playing on an isolated pitch on a Saturday morning with an unusually shaped rugby ball. 

So once Erc joined Galwegians in 1974 and made the trip to Renmore for training, he was blown away by the sheer wonder of the establishment. Recalling approaching the gates with big plumes of smoke in the background, this experience kickstarted his love for the game. 

“Driving up towards the clubhouse, it was the most incredible thing because suddenly, it was a huge change from running to a field. Now you had a place with changing rooms, showers, and a huge bath inside.”

“It was then a case of seeing these big guys, adults, running onto the pitch and training. I suppose from there it ignited a passion that I never had before for rugby. Just to see how it was organised, to see players in the sky-blue jersey, to get the little blue membership book when you joined the club.”

The fine details stuck out for Erc, with this membership being a sense of belonging in Galwegians, feeling that he was part of something important. It was an exciting time to be united with all his friends and be around a variety of coaches. This book would be a memento that would stay with Erc for all his life as a Wegian. 

A particular memory that Erc remembers fondly from his underage days, was when the former Ireland captain Johhny Moloney came down to Galwegians playing for St Mary’s. Starstruck to meet one of his heroes, he asked for an autograph only to his shock to be refused. 

“I remember this knocked me, but he did ask me to write my name and address on a piece of paper and leave it at the goalpost. I did it and went home dejected after being knocked back like that.”

“The following February in the post, I didn’t receive Johhny Moloney’s autograph, I received the whole Irish rugby team’s autograph on the back of a menu. The gentleman had gone and not only sent me his autograph but the whole Irish rugby team”.

For a young child and to receive such a priceless piece of memorabilia, Erc viewed it as a token of inspiration. He knew that when he grew up, he thought about what he could do to inspire other children, who are coming into rugby. 

“I have always tried to say to people, help at some stage in the youth academy. Do something when kids will go and say, ‘I want to be like that’. That would be one thing that would stick out for me in my younger days”.

Erc treasured those Saturday mornings as a young child as some of the fondest memories of his time in Galwegians, realising how this rugby club would become a “second home” for him. 

“You do create a bond with your friends, you are part of something bigger. You feel like it is part of your home. Even after living in London for ten years, Galwegians would always be my club”. 

“That feeling was instilled by the different coaches I had, a passion for the sky blue. I guess that it seeped into my inner being, I am a Galwegian, I have always been a Galwegian, and I always will be a Galwegian.”

Finishing his playing career in 1988, Erc took a step into the world of coaching. After returning to Galway after a stint in London, he received a phone call from the late Joe Dunne, who informed Erc that he would be taking charge of the U20s. 

With a demand for coaches at underage level, Erc took the position and started working on his coaching badges. Trying to comprehend how the game evolved and the challenge of transitioning from playing the game to management, was a learning cycle. 

Taught by coach Eric Elwood, Erc learned the basics and foundations of coaching and the fundamentals behind safety and skills at the youth level. Erc understood the significance behind nurturing this young talent into the next generation and thinking beyond today’s game. 

“You are overseeing the development of what hopefully will be the oak tree of tomorrow, you are planting the seed of passion that may make the transition into not only senior club rugby but maybe Connacht or something bigger.”

One of the greatest achievements throughout Erc’s time in Galwegians came during his time as Director of Rugby in 2013. Asked to take on the role by Billy Quinn, it was a huge responsibility to put on someone’s shoulders. 

Taking on the advice of former directors of the past and learning from their experiences, how they evolved in their roles and laid down the foundations of what the club needed. One of his first appointments came with awarding Corey Brown the role of head coach.

“I suppose you could look at my role as ensuring we had a coach, agreeing on key performance indicators with that coach, what is your plan, how do you see that plan taking us to where we need to be.”

“Where I thought we needed to be was developing our players, stabilizing ourselves and making sure we weren’t relegated and bring Corey in and looked at where we were and how we could strengthen what we had.”

Silverware was not the primary ambition at first, but rather looking towards recruitment and ensuring the steady development of everyone in the squad. Utilizing all the contacts are their disposal to strengthen their side, Erc spearheaded the process to bring depth and strength in numbers.

Erc steered the club towards the upper echelon of AIL rugby, leading Galwegians all the way from Division 2A to 1A in the space of a few short years. Laying the groundwork for success for the club, it stands out as an almighty accomplishment for the club.

In 2020, Erc became club president for the first time which obviously in unprecedented times with the pandemic. It was certainly a great challenge to take the role in a time when the world was in disarray and with not much to be done pitch side.

“I think it did harm our development a little bit. But because there was nothing we could do on the pitch; it was a case of pushing the club forwards with fundraising. We did become very active with the Our Club, Your Country initiative, and I think it was the first time we exceeded the €10,000 mark.”

“When you didn’t know when Covid was going to stop when everything was going to be opened again, it’s hard to plan anything else. It was really a case of keeping the club going into the future and hoping doors opened again.”

But the club persevered, and now the future is the focus for Galwegians as they look to climb up the ladder towards the top tiers of club rugby once again. Despite Division 2C not being their “natural environment”, there’s hope that they can carry their early season momentum forward. 

“Momentum this time of the season is really a case of making sure that the lads are focused and keeping their heads up.  Looking at the team and looking at their attitude to training and going out at the pitch, I have no doubt this is going to be a good season”.

“To be honest, the most important thing this season is stabilizing. Ensuring that we build and continue to come together as a team, develop the skills, and go out and play the game not thinking down the road, but just thinking about that game. Ensuring we take our wins and maximise our points and we will be back to where we should be”.

Paul Hackett profile

Paul Hackett had been a long-serving player of Galwegians. We sat down with him recently to hear him reflect and take a brief look back on his rugby career to date.

One day when Paul was nine years old, a group of Galwegians players came back from playing a rugby tournament in London and visited his primary school. Seeing them with glittering silverware and medals around their necks inspired Paul and inspired him to get involved in the world of rugby.

“I thought it was amazing that they were coming back from playing rugby in London. That gave me the bug to take up rugby”.

Paul followed his friends and started playing underage rugby for Galwegians. He used his skillset from GAA to transition to rugby and felt that the oval ball sport “came more naturally to me”. He just fell in love with the sport and the rest has been history.

Paul has achieved no small amount of success in his time during his time with Galwegians. The first major success was the U17 All Ireland Final on the back of an undefeated streak. “I look back at that year fondly. You have so many friends that you grew up with. Tt was a moment when boys became men”.

Another achievement for Paul was being a part of the Galwegians side that made it all the way to AIL Division 1A and the top tier of Irish club rugby. “It was a huge honour to be part of that team. It will always stay in the back of my mind”.

Paul rates his team mates through the years as a constant source of inspiration and motivation to improve as a player and reach the next level himself.

“You get inspired by your friends and the players around you. How much hard work they are putting in, and what they are achieving in life. You take all these little things about what they are doing. That’s what you get your inspiration from”.

Paul is currently in Dublin and, despite being retired from rugby, Paul admits he still has the urge to come back and put on his boots to get back in action. He is contemplating getting his coaching badges, but would like to get some more games under his belt before pursuing coaching.

“I ended up buying a new pair of boots a while back so I might have to start playing a small bit of rugby here in Dublin, I’m getting itchy feet. I don’t know how the people in Galway would feel about that, but I might do a small bit of playing before going back to coaching!”.

Paul has some experience coaching in Galwegians, after mentoring the U20s two years ago to get a feel of it.

Having progressed through the youth ranks to senior rugby, he knows that these young players are the next generation of Wegians and wants to give his expertise with an emphasis on “hard work and learning from your mistakes”.

“I wanted to give back to the club, and the way you do that is coaching and helping the younger players. Giving the knowledge you learnt back to them is extremely rewarding. There were volunteers that helped me along the way along with thousands of other players. So I want to help. It’s such a small yet rewarding thing to do. I was happy to do it.”

Paul is confident that Galwegians can go the way this season. The Sky Blues might be 100 years old but they aren’t going to be slowing down any time soon. He wishes the club all the best for the season ahead.

Referee profile: Dermot Blake

Dermot Blake

by Ciarán Ó Flaithearta

Although a life member of the club many of our community might not know Dermot Blake. Dermot has a deep-rooted connection to Galwegians. He is the grandson of founding member and former president Henry St. John Blake, son of past president Bruce Blake and brother to last year’s president Carl. However, with a long line of club presidents in the family, Dermot took a different approach when it came to rugby.

Dermot grew up in Dublin but attended Glenstal Abbey where he later became a housemaster. Although rugby was engraved in the Blake’s DNA, Dermot didn’t play much rugby growing up “I played a bit at under 10s or minis and junior cup was pretty much the extent of my rugby career”. It wasn’t until he became housemaster and rugby coach at Glenstal in 2005 that he found his true rugby calling picking up the whistle and taking charge.

“I took the course because I had to,” says Blake. As the U14s coach, he had to be equipped to take charge of some of the in-house games that took place in Glenstal. Having enjoyed his first year as a referee, Blake soon received a phone call asking if he’d like to join the Munster rugby roster and referee some other games around the province, he happily accepted this challenge.

By 2007 Blake had begun to take charge of some important games around Munster. As the assessments began so did the Branch’s method of testing. They threw Blake in at the deep end, appointing him to games above his current level. Blake took each one in his stride and progressed at a very quick pace taking charge of Junior cup games and the Junior plate final.

Within a year Blake had been nominated by the Munster branch to progress to the IPAS level and started refereeing the AIL. Following a move back to Leinster and Dublin, the 41-year-old started to make a name for himself in the province.

It wasn’t until Blake realised the importance of match preparation, that he began to fully excel on the pitch. Blakes says that there are two different types of preparation one of them is theory and research-based. He does his homework on each team he has been appointed to referee, to ensure he has all the tools and knowledge to referee the game to the best of his ability, “as soon as I get my fixture I start to do my research, looking at the team’s last games and making notes”, after the game phase two commences with self-evaluation, “you have to be your own biggest critique”, says Blake, “I watch back every match I do at least twice, the first time to get a feel for how my game went and to make time stamps and the second time to look at specific points or moments in the game”. 

The other method is on-field preparation. In Malahide where he lives Blake along with about 10 other referees come together each week to train on the pitch. Together the group work on fitness through interval training and sprints which replicate a match tempo. They also work on scenarios to better their positioning and to attempt to replicate a match.

During the 2016 season, Blake took charge of The Leinster schools Senior cup quarter-final, and quarter-final replay between Blackrock and Belvedere college, which he remembers fondly, “I still watch it on Youtube and it is, without a doubt, the greatest game of rugby that I have ever been involved in”. Due to his excellent performance in both games, he earned himself the appointment for the most prestigious game in the Leinster Rugby calendar, the Leinster schools Senior cup final. 

At the end of the 2016 season, Blake was awarded the Alain Rolland award for ARLB Referee of the Year Award, which he says was all down to the change in his attitude toward preparation that aided him to reach his full potential.

Blake has reached the highest level of refereeing possible in Ireland without becoming a professional, he has assistant refereed in URC games, and even in some European games which he has thoroughly enjoyed, but he knows without a doubt that he never wants to take the next step and become a pro.  The loneliness experienced on the road week in and week out is the main reason why he is happy with where he is right now. His only goal now is to continue as national panel referee until the age of 45, “my goal is to get to 45, and every year after that is a bonus”.

Although Blake has been a part of many prestigious games down through the years one, in particular, stood out. Back in 2020, he took charge of the first Bruce St John Blake Memorial cup between Galwegians and NUIG which honours his father. This would be the first and only time that Blake would referee Galwegians. Being a life member of the club, there are rules that prevent him from refereeing Galwegians, but due to circumstances, the two teams came to a mutual agreement and allowed him to referee the game which Blake says was “a real privilege” to be a part of.

Blake believes that the reason he loves refereeing so much is that, “it’s like having a front-row seat to the action” he loves “the sense of satisfaction when I have a good game, just being so close to the action of a high-level game is really enjoyable. I would never have been involved at this level of the game without refereeing”. 

“After my wife and daughter, refereeing is the most important thing in my life”.

Dermot Blake

As a mental health OT he knows the benefits of being active, and for him refereeing is a fantastic way to do so, “it keeps your mind engaged, it’s an interest outside your daily life, and you can only benefit from having extra interests, I say to my wife, after her and my daughter, reffing is actually the most important thing in my life because I love it, I absolutely love it. When I’ve finished refereeing, she already knows that I will be involved in referee administration because I love refereeing and I’ll need that for me and my mental health”.

Blake believes that refereeing is a great way to “give back and to stay involved in the club”. For Blake refereeing was a way to continue his relationship with rugby without playing and that’s why he would encourage more people to get involved in that side of the sport. Blakes’s message to anyone who is starting out as a referee is the most important thing for a young referee to do is “not to be too hard on yourself, allow yourself to make mistakes because you never stopped making them. Learn that early, accept it, and just enjoy it”

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