2019-20202B7A BrowneM Cummins
2018-20192A10B McClearnA Ryan
2017-20182A8B McClearnA Ryan
2016-20171B10B McClearnB Murphy
2015-20161A10M BrownJ Naughton
2014-20151B1M BrownJ Naughton
2013-20142A1C BrownB McClearn
2012-20132A6C Rigney, G DuffyC Conroy
2011-20121B9C Rigney, G DuffyJ Cleary

Season 2011/12 was one where, after a number of near miss seasons, relegation finally caught up with us. Colm Rigney had taken over from Eamonn Molloy as head coach and had Gavin Duffy on board as backs coach. A solid if uneventful season ensued and we looked relatively safe heading to Ballynahinch on the final day. With the unlikeliest set of results occurring all over the division and whatever could go wrong, going wrong, we found ourselves out of Division 1B for the following season. This season also saw the untimely passing of first team player Dave O’Hara from Portumna and he will not be forgotten by all associated with him as either team-mate or mentor. 

The season 2012/13 was better in terms of number of matches won under the captaincy of Colin Conroy but at no stage did we put ourselves in position to get promoted. With Colm O’Donnellan as president (the first colourised president on the clubhouse wall) and supporters buses travelling round the country to away matches, the season was not without incident and was enjoyable at times. The highlight being a comprehensive victory over old rivals Corinthians which was our first match played under new floodlights at Crowley Park. The team overall, however, underachieved and were themselves determined to put that right and maximise their undoubted ability and potential.

The following two seasons were the highpoint of the decade and possibly our entire AIL history. We came out on top of both Divisions 2A and 1B, winning successive titles. It was a glorious period for the club and the catalyst for this success was the appointment of New Zealander Cory Brown as head coach in the summer of 2013. With Brian McClearn as captain there was a tremendous camaraderie and spirit in the club and as always, things were made easier with a winning side. Supporters became an extension of the team bus and witnessed some great attacking rugby. A notable statistic from this period was the number of times the team scored 4 tries to achieve bonus point wins.

There were other days of course when wins needed to be grinded out and a tight match on a foggy early January day in Banbridge was one of those. On another Saturday, when the country was almost shut down due to a nationwide storm and flooding, we managed to defeat Seapoint in Dublin on a score of 5-0. We achieved promotion at Barnhall RFC with a couple of games to spare and dared to dream how we would fare playing at a higher standard the following season.

In the summer of 2014, Joe Healy succeeded John Gaffney as president, Matt Brown replaced Cory Brown as coach, division 1B replaced division 2A and the team kept winning. This season was one of our very best in AIL history with away wins recorded in difficult places like Ballymena, Garryowen, Shannon and Malone. The standard of rugby played was magnificent.

Nobody who was in Crowley Park on the day could ever forget a winner-takes-all final season match against Garryowen. In a throwback to the early days of the AIL, a couple of thousand people thronged Crowley Park and the atmosphere was electric. Two second half tries by the brilliant John ‘Luigi’ Cleary at the clubhouse end saw us win the game in magnificent style and send the club back to the premier division of 1A. This season was undoubtedly the highlight of the decade.

It was always going to difficult to follow those two spectacular seasons and more especially playing at the highest standard of club rugby. In season 2015/16, under the continued stewardship of Matt Brown and the presidency of Dick O’Hanlon, we were not expected to retain our status in this division at the outset but the team performed with spirit, no-little ability and lived favourably with most opposition.

It took a try in the last minute of the last league game of the season against Cork Constitution to consign us to relegation. This was most unfortunate and the very least that the team deserved was the opportunity of a play-off, but that was denied them on this occasion. Notable highlights of the season were wins over Cork Constitution, Lansdowne, Young Munster and Garryowen. This division and standard of rugby was tough work for the squad and many had been there since winning division 2A a couple of seasons earlier.

The squad did reach the final of the Bateman Cup and this fixture had the added bonus of being shown live on RTE television. This was challenging for all of those involved as a pre-match lunch was organised in a temporary marquee. It turned out to be an excellent day on many fronts and the team performed admirably out on the pitch, going under to a fine Cork Constitution outfit.

The senior squad saw many exits and retirements for the following season which was to be as a Division 1B side. Former IRFU President Billy Glynn served as club president, former outstanding second row Brian McClearn was appointed coach and the season itself was one of frustration, underachievement and ultimate disappointment. Despite many close calls and narrow defeats, we were unable to avoid a second successive relegation and we unfortunately proved the old adage of ‘what goes up must come down’! Despite having a talented side and being in control of many games, we failed to close our matches from promising positions. At the end of the season, one in which only 3 games were won, we could have no real complaints about going down. 

As retirements and player exits inevitably follow relegation, season 2017-18 under the presidency of Declan O’Connor and head-coach Brian McClearn proved to be a struggle but ended with some success. This was definitely a season of transition with many new younger players getting starts in the AIL. It was a story of experienced players such as Anthony Ryan, Brian Murphy, Barry Lee and Marty Cummins among others, guiding new emerging talents like Morgan Codyre and Hugh Lane. A couple of early wins proved crucial as we fell into a mid-season slump and went 7-8 games without a win. These losses at times were heavy and demoralising and when we lost to rivals Corinthians in early January, the writing seemed to be on the wall.

Enter a veteran full back and suddenly the team started to play with some confidence. A win over Greystones provided some hope followed by a dramatic last-minute Paul Hackett try to defeat high-flying Nenagh. This was followed up by an away win in spectacular style against Queens University which put us in with a fighting chance of staying up. We were defeated by table-toppers Malone at home and headed to Armagh in the second last match needing to win. A last-minute penalty converted by Morgan Codyre gave us victory and defeating Cashel the following weekend would keep us up. In our best display of the season we won easily scoring 50 points and many excellent tries, not least a memorable one by Luigi where a dummy or two were sold in the process. It was a narrow escape but a well-deserved one.

Season 2018-19 is one that is that is probably best forgotten as we proved to be completely out of our depth and failed to build on the narrow escape of the previous one. Mick Tarpey was president and Brian McClearn was senior coach for his final season of three. A close opening day defeat away to Blackrock provided some initial hope but this was followed by heavy and demoralising home defeats to Queens University and Cashel. Another competitive loss away to Dolphin yielded a bonus point followed by a narrow home defeat to Old Crescent. Further losses to both Highfield and Navan were followed by the highpoint of the season when we secured our only league victory at home to Nenagh in the final game before Christmas.

This victory gave the squad something of a lift but on the resumption, it became very obvious that we were going to be relegated and was just a matter of when. The season was very tough for both coaches and squad and with mounting injuries in addition to low morale, it became something of a relief when the season concluded. It was a matter of rebuilding at a lower division.

The last season of the decade, season 2019-20, saw a resurgence of sorts for our AIL team. Although now plying our trade at Division 2B and under the presidency of Padraig Moran with Andrew Browne as coach, we put together some very good results prior to the season being abandoned when Covid 19 struck.

Only 14 games out of the regulation 18 managed to be played and we had a record of 6 wins, a draw and 7 defeats leaving us mid-table. From a playing point of view, it was good to get back to winning ways and grow some confidence again. There were season highpoints like winning away in Dungannon for the first time in the AIL and other notable victories besides.

The All Ireland League is 30 years old and our club, Galwegians, has been a member since qualifying in 1992 when we secured a famous victory over Clontarf in Dublin. No club has a divine right to be in the AIL and many distinguished clubs have left, such as Wanderers, only to return in due course. Others have not been so lucky. Nothing in club rugby can be taken for granted in these uncertain and changing times for the game. We have a tradition and history that is almost 100 years old. That does not, however, grant us membership to the AIL.

We had to work very hard to qualify originally and it has taken many years of volunteerism in committee rooms, allied with the skills of both coaches and players to keep the club in the AIL for 28 consecutive years. It should be our ambition both to retain our AIL membership and aspire to climbing up the divisions when the team is good enough to do so. The next chapter of Galwegians in the AIL will be written in 2030, lets hope that our club will still be a respected member of the league. 

by Paul Casserly

See the preceding article Galwegians in the AIL, the First 20 Seasons also by Paul Casserly.