Connacht Rugby adds to growing sporting culture

A rather large unfurled Leinster flag, held high by two poles, blocked the views of fervent Connacht Rugby fans at the Galway Sportsground on Saturday.

Repeated pleas to its owner to lower his colours fell on deaf ears until the patience of a Galwegian finally broke. The flag followed a similar fate.

It seemed to reflect the actions on the pitch - You may have more money, more players, a bigger stadium, and more trophies, but this is our stadium, our home, our team, and it is our time. Play all you like, but this time we have the talent, the skill and the collective will to prevail.

Go back a couple of years, and ask youngsters to name the Connacht team. Only that of Eric Elwood would likely spring to mind. Now we have John Muldoon, Robbie Hensaw, Tiernan O’Halloran, Bundee Aki, Denis Buckley, Matt Healy - irrelevant whether they are from Portumna, Athlone, Clifden, Manurewa, Ballinasloe or Dublin when they play with heart, soul and skill for their jersey and their club.

The groundswell of support for a Connacht Rugby team on the rise can only be positive for Galway. Just like the Galway hurlers and footballers in the past, they provide a city, county and province with a worthwhile sense of identity - no longer the poor relations, but a confident, youthful and hardworking collective that can achieve.

It is not dissimilar less than a mile from the Sportsground where Galway United are restoring pride in their jersey. The histories of the two clubs bear similarities - both having struggled for long periods to survive, never with the luxury of taking support and finance for granted.

Sporting achievements, particularly by those regarded as underdogs, have always captured the imagination of the public. Think of Olive Loughnane, whose long hours of often lonely dedication to her sport, were finally rewarded. Up against the might of Russian athletes, Loughnane’s honest endeavours surprised all in the 2009 World Championship 20k walk when she achieved a silver medal. Ireland duly celebrated. The Olympic and World champion Olga Kaniskina, both the clear favourite and winner - became the first woman to win the racewalking gold in consecutive championships. Seven years later Kaniskina has been stripped of her gold, and Loughnane has achieved not only a precious gold medal and a season best, but the reward of her athletic life time.

Whether international, national or local, we share in the sense of achievement; businesses prosper with the growing crowds; families and friends connect on the Clan steps - it’s not just a sport, but a culture. Winning becomes a habit not only on the pitch.

Galway is renowned as a cultural centre for the arts. It is now recognised as a gastronomic city. Hopefully the time is coming when it will be known also as a sporting stronghold of all codes.

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