NUI Galway has joined the growing list of sponsors of Connacht Rugby to help promote both sporting and academic excellence.
Recognised as one Ireland’s leading universities, NUI Galway will partner Connacht Rugby for the next three years and provide educational opportunities for the province’s young players.
The High Performance Education Partnership will allow players from the Connacht Rugby Academy and age grade teams to avail of education at the college, in addition to a mentoring and development programme.
With 17 members of the current Connacht squad either current students or graduates of university, NUIG president, Dr Jim Browne said it was important the university ensured students had a potential career outside of rugby.
In providing professional players with the opportunity to combine third level study with a professional rugby career, he said it would also “provide a powerful incentive for talented young players to come to Connacht and NUI Galway”.
“There are people who see Connacht as an ambitious province that has come on in leaps and bounds, so we share an ambition to attract people from outside Connacht who will work with both of us,” Dr Brown said. “We both share a common goal - ours is academic endeavour and Connacht’s is sporting, and both are committed to the next generation.
“We will provide the mechanism and pathways to allow students who are clearly engaged in training to avail of the university and make the best of both.”
Both institutions had similar histories, having been founded in the 19th century, he said.
“We were founded at the height of the Famine when this part of the country had the most difficult suffering, yet we have thrived after a difficult start. Similarly Connacht [Rugby] was founded in the late 19th century, came through adversity and in the last 20 years has come to the fore.
“We have always seen this [Galway] as as university city, but recently, with Connacht’s success, it is also a rugby city as well.”
However, he said, there was a defined point where rugby players had to end their playing career and it was inportant the university ensured students had a career outside the game.
“Connacht has recognised and taken responsibility for these young people, knowing at some point they will exit rugby and need an alternative.”
Connacht Rugby CEO Tom Sears, who declined to put a monetary figure on the partnership, described the initiative as “massively important” to Connacht’s continuing growth and ambition.
“This year we will have over 4,000 season ticket holders and at big matches we will see 9,000 people plus. That is the level of our growth and ambition. Pat Lam has come here from New Zealand with a huge profile as a player and coach, we are attracting the likes of Craig Clarke, the Super 15 winning captain for the last two years. That is how the Connacht brand is spreading,” Sears said.
“ We are putting ourselves on the map and we see this partnership as helping us even further by attracting young players into our system.”
Sears said Connacht was taking a holistic approach to its player development.
“We want to turn out the best players possible, we want success on the pitch, but we also want our players to be the best people they can be and develop in all areas of life.”
The new partnership was launched by former Lions, Ireland and Connacht captain and NUI Galway alumnus Ciaran Fitzgerald, who Dr Browne said epitomised the unity of the two institutions - a legend for Connacht and Ireland and a distinguished academic.