Inis Mor teenager braves the wintry waves for his love of rugby

Ciaran O Flaithearta from Inis Mor with his team mates from Galwegians RFC.

Ciaran O Flaithearta from Inis Mor with his team mates from Galwegians RFC.

Dreams of becoming a professional sportsperson are not unusual, but a young County Galway teenager is going to great lengths to fulfill his ambition to play the game he loves.

Fourteen-years-old Ciaran O Flaithearta, who hails from Inis Mór on the Aran Islands, makes the journey into Galway twice a week to play rugby with Galwegians RFC. He has been making the journey by ferry since he was 12 when his parents Fionnuala and Cyril first agreed to escort him to the Glenina club.

On an island where Gaelic football is naturally the sport of choice, Ciaran says his interest in rugby was fostered by television, watching Ireland, and playing in the front garden with brother Fionn, who is now 18.

"I always had an interest in rugby, and when I was 12 I asked if I would be allowed to start, so I came here to Galwegians because my uncle [Tim Hernan] played here as well," Ciaran says. "I guess I was attracted by the speed, the passing, the tackling. It's really entertaining. I still play Gaelic, but I prefer rugby because of the higher intensity, the tackling, and because it's more physical.

Understandably his parents were a little hesitant.

"My parents were not sure - it was more about whether I would be committed, having to travel in and out every weekend, so they told me to keep with the Gaelic football and see how I went with that. But once I started, there was no going back - that was two seasons ago, starting with the u-12s. My parents are happy to see I am committed to a certain sport and that I love it so much."

As a result Ciaran is on the road and boat twice a week from the end of August for pre-season through to April or May. At the mercy of weather to travel by ferry, it has not always been easy. Up until this year family members accompanied the youngster, but he now travels by himself.

"I'm very much dependent on the weather. If it's really bad or high swells, the boat won't go, and then if the wind is bad, the plane won't go either, and so I won't be able to come out, or I might have to come in the night before. It happened a lot last year.

"I usually catch the 4pm ferry after school - sometimes I leave early - because it's a 15 minute walk to the boat. From Rossaveal I bus into town, walk to the Swamp if training is there, or if it's in Glenina I might get a lift from town. My coach Niall Beatty gives me a lift back to Bearna where I stay with my granny overnight, or sometimes my granny or a cousin will pick me up."

A Junior Cert student at secondary school, Ciaran believes he can manage study, rugby, and the travelling.

"As long as I get to play, I will put in the effort during the week - even if I had to bring books with me. I'm sure my granny Eileen would make me do my school work."

Although it can be tough, missing out on weekends at home and "Saturday lie-ins", Ciaran doesn't find it tiresome. Instead he prefers to treat it as an adventure, while also "dodging jobs at home as well" on the family farm.

Home is the middle of the island at Eochaill, which he says has shaped his fitness from a young age.

"Cycling, walking, running - you almost have to on an island. It's also a lot safer, going on your bike on the island. As an eight year old you might not let your child go off cycling somewhere else, but on the island there's not as much traffic."

A right winger with Galwegians, Ciaran’s ambition is to become a professional player, and not surprisingly Connacht's Matt Healy is his idol.

"Every now and again I get to a Connacht match, but my dad is a big Munster fan, so we go down there too. It was great last year when Connacht beat them in Thomond."

Ciaran has grown up with many of the same teammates under coach Niall Beatty, and this year they decided to take pre-season training to the Aran Islands for the first time. It was a gesture much appreciated by the teenager and the locals.

"They [locals]were surprised Galwegians would go through the effort to come out, but they all thought it was a good idea once they saw us having a good time. We trained on the Gaelic pitch, and then went to the pier to swim, and a tour of the island, came back and had dinner, and the next day went training again.

"It was great. I didn't have to go travelling, we had the craic, the team bonded a lot."

A developing team, the U15s are now at the half-way point of the season and are making steady progress with only two defeats - one narrow one to Monivea by three points and another loss to Ballinalsoe by six tries to three.

Niall Beatty says Ciaran is a real ambassador the club, the Aran Islands, and the sport.

"It is his attitude. I think it is unique for this kid who is prepared to come in on a Wednesday evening and at the weekend to play rugby - he is so committed, it's fantastic, and he's a real ambassador for Galwegians and the island.

"This is my third year with Ciaran, any kid with a commitment and attitude like him has a future in anything they choose to do. We've another from Ma'am Cross, Tuam, Oughterard, and from Oranmore and Clarinbridge. Some of them had never played rugby, some play all three codes, rugby, soccer and Gaelic, and some are new this year and they are adapting well.

"We really try to have a bit of fun. It's not always about the results, but about teaching the kids the basic principles of rugby, the enjoyment of the game, the camaraderie, and building relationships which is for life, not just on the pitch."

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