From the Galwegians Yearbook 2007-2008
Ask almost any Galwegian their rugby ambition and you are very likely to hear: “To play for Connacht and Ireland”. Galwegians have provided a constant supply of players to Connacht for many years, and we are now regularly represented in the age grades for Ireland. Several Galwegians have received full Ireland caps, and among them Eric Elwood has played by far the most for our country with 35 caps between 1993 and 1999.
Eric was brought up in Mervue and attended Colaiste Iognaid. Sport was an integral part of his early life and he excelled at everything he participated in. He played both soccer and gaelic football for Mervue clubs in the 1980s, appearing in the FAI Cup and playing for Galway in the 1989 Connacht Senior Football final.
During this time, Eric also “hopped the wall” to Galwegians and fell in love with rugby. His natural ability and enthusiasm were clear and he made his for Galwegians at 18 against Garryowen. In his senior debut Galwegians career, Eric is our club’s top AIB League points scorer with 783 points, more than Ronan O’Gara has scored for Cork Con.
It was not long before Eric’s talents were recognised and he first represented Connacht in October 1989 against Ulster. Then a few weeks later he faced the mighty All-Blacks as a 19-year-old in the Sportsground in the days of amateur Connacht rugby and when New Zealand were the world champions.
Playing for the All Blacks that day was Warren Gatland, later to be Irish and now Welsh coach. On his advice, Eric spent a year playing for Waikato in New Zealand and learned a huge amount in an environment where talented out-halves are not in short supply. This provided motivation to take on the next step in his career.
On returning to Ireland, Eric moved to Dublin in 1991 and joined the Lansdowne Club to improve his prospects of getting international recognition. It wasn’t long before he achieved his ambition when he burst onto the international scene in February 1993, helping Ireland defeat Wales in Cardiff. It was Ireland’s first win in a run of twelve, and our first in Cardiff for 26 years. Two weeks later, he played a key role in a famous 17-3 defeat of England in Lansdowne Road and was considered unlucky not to make that year’s Lions tour. The following year, he also experienced victory over England in Twickenham.
Eric also played in both the 1995 and 1999 Rugby World Cups, and in two Sevens World Cups. He represented the Barbarians against New Zealand in 1993. In total, Eric won 35 caps for Ireland, scoring 296 points. His last test was against Romania in the 1999 World Cup.
With the advent of professional rugby in 1996, Eric returned to Galwegians and Connacht. He is intensely loyal to his native city and province, having played 17 successive seasons for Connacht. The pressure to join more high-profile outfits was ever present and he received serious offers from squads such as Leinster, Llanelli, Narbonne and Leicester. Even in 2002, when the IRFU, sought to abandon professional rugby in Connacht and most of the squad looked to secure their future elsewhere, Eric remained in Galway in the hope that the public campaign would overturn the decision.
He went on to represent Connacht a record 177 times, last playing in April 2005. Eric has been a pivotal figure as Connacht went from obscurity to a respected force in Europe. Highlights for Connacht include matches against major touring sides, the first Irish provincial win in a competitive match on French soil, defeating Begles Bordeaux in 1998, and reaching two European Challenge Cup Semi-Finals.
Since retiring as a player, Eric has moved into a coaching role. In his time with Connacht, he has been a teacher and mentor to many players. His ability to inspire, encourage and nurture young players was recognised by the IRFU, when they appointed him coach to the national squad in the RBS U20 Six Nations. This proved to be an immediate success when in 2007 Ireland won their first ever Grand Slam at this age group under Eric’s direction. Although less successful in 2008, this season Eric brought on a new generation of Galwegian by including Dave Nolan, and product of our Youth Academy, in his squad.
This season Eric also received a special and unusual honour for a Galwegian player by being awarded an honorary degree from NUI Galway to recognise his contribution to rugby in Galway and Connacht.
Eric Elwood is indisputably one of our ‘Great Galwegians’.