The first team to represent Connacht in rugby played against Leinster on December 8 1885. At that time, the game in the west was played by just a few schools. In the city, it was really only UCG and the Grammar School who played with any regularity. By the beginning of the last century the Jes, the Bish, and St Mary’s were competing. The growth of the game was interrupted by World War I and by the War of Independence, but it improved a lot after the truce.
Interprovincials were played, but not on a regular basis until 1946, when the first interpro championship was held. It has been played every year since. Before the game turned professional, Connacht played one home game and two away games one year, two home games and one away the following year. The Interpros were always played in the Sportsground on a Thursday afternoon when there was a half day in Galway, all the shops having closed at lunchtime.
There were occasional representative games against touring sides and they were the only other chance Connacht players had to announce themselves on the national stage, but as the province had no voice to advance the cause of Connacht players on the selectors committee, very few Connacht men were awarded Irish caps. George Henebrey was capped six times between 1906 and 1909. In the modern era, Dickie Roche of Galwegians was the next to be capped, later Brendan Guerin, Johnny Dooley, Tony O’Sullivan, and Eamonn Maguire achieved the honour, but others like Don Armstrong and Cormac Greally, who deserved to represent Ireland, were denied.
In those days all the players were born in or living in Connacht and their occasional victories were memorable. Then the game turned professional and things began to change. Players from other parts of the country and abroad joined the club. Connacht were now playing in the Celtic League and even in the Heineken Cup, but were still regarded as a ‘feeder’ club by the other provinces. When Eric Elwood took over as manager the pace of change quickened, they were winning more games and attracting bigger crowds. Nigel Carolan developed the Academy into an impressive force to be reckoned with. So there were strong foundations there for Pat Lam to build on when he arrived. He, together with Jimmy Duffy and Dave Ellis, has injected a whole new spirit into the team and the supporters, a ‘can do’ attitude, and the results this season have been a joy to watch. The Sportsground has become a bit of a fortress, some opposing teams now complain about having to play ‘up the hill’. Connacht Rugby has become a brand.
So, to celebrate the current management and squad and backroom team, we have today a Connacht side that played against Leinster in Lansdowne Road in the sixties. I don’t know who the referee was on the day, but the rest of the back row are: Eamonn Maguire, Brian O’Halloran, Don Armstrong, Noel Turley, PJ O’Dwyer, John Armstrong, Tom Browne, Jack Deacy, and Maurice Kennedy. In front are Noel Carpenter, Brian Siggins, Ray McLoughlin, Steve Cunningham, Tony O’Sullivan, ‘Locky’ Butler, Billy Glynn, and John Greally.
The formal opening of the “Decade of Revolution in Galway” exhibition takes place in Galway City Museum this evening at 6pm. All are welcome. The exhibition is wonderful and there is no admission fee, so don’t miss it.