Six months ago Galway’s Martin Fallon was in Murrayfield Stadium cheering on Connacht in the Pro 12 final; this week his loyalties have changed.
He has swapped his Connacht jersey for the yellow and black of Wasps, and is backing the premiership side to achieve the double over Connacht in the Saturday’s Champions Cup fixture at the Galway Sportsground.
Fallon, a former Bish and NUI Galway graduate, is now marketing manager at Wasps RFC - one of the best known clubs in world rugby which has been in existence for almost 150 years. He arrived at the club via Harlequins and Connacht, where he began his career in the commercial and marketing department after graduating from NUI Galway with a B Comm in marketing.
Understandably he describes his journey as “interesting”, having first joined Wasps when it was a smaller club based in London.
“When I first joined, Wasps had a lot of simiarlies with Connacht. It was back in old Adams Park days, we trained at the amateur club’s ground, and it had a real family atmosphere. Since we moved to Coventry things have changed. We have grown into quite a big business now.
“I guess I was quite lucky in that I had a season at Harlequins in between two seasons with Connacht, so I had a little experience of the Premiership. There is a difference, obviously, with all the clubs not run centrally through union like Ireland, but each has its own merits, and at the end of the day, rugby is the same sport.”
From ground-sharing with Wycombe Wanderers in Buckinghamshire at the 10,000 capacity Adam’s Park (now the Causeway ), to sharing the 32,000 Ricoh Arena with Coventry City has been a major change for Fallon.
“It took me about two weeks to get my head around the place, I kept getting lost in the corridors. However, it’s been great and it’s been a challenge which I have relished. I still smile every time I see a Wasps logo when I am walking around it.”
The move has resulted in average attendances of 18,000 people for the first two seasons - “something we could only have dreamed off in Adams Park”, he says.
“What the Ricoh has allowed us to do is a whole a lot more than 80 minutes of rugby on the pitch. We have a fan village that last night held 1800 at a Christmas party and then can quickly change to rugby for a fan base.”
In addition to a hotel and casino, the facilities allow Wasps to hold events to accrue income.
“Rugby is now just one small portion of the business, but we would never have been able to sign Kurtley Beale or Danny Cipriani if we did not have a facility like this to pay for it.”
However Fallon still believes it boasts its old club identity in spirit, with 1,100 core fans still travelling from its former bases in London.
“It has all the facilities, but it is still a good club with old school rugby and a lot of heart. It’s something that I would hope Connacht, on such a fantastic journey at the moment, will also have down the line - facilities to match this while also keeping that same soul.”
Galway and Connacht, he says, is crying out for municipal stadium, common in France and Italy.
“People in Galway and around the province - I know from my own experience - will embrace it. You only have to look in summer when every week there’s festival, and I think a stadium like this could provide a focal point to host events - it would only benefit Galway and the west of Ireland.”
Fallon has followed Connacht and its journey, but is still backing his English employers this Saturday in the Sportsground.
“I take great pride coming from Connacht and having seen the changes. It is home to me and always will be and I had some great years working there with some fantastic people. I am proud looking at Connacht now and seeing what the club is achieving and its potential, but I have a job to do in Wasps.
“I will always have soft spot with Connacht in my heart, but Wasps pay my wages. Hopefully it will be a good game of rugby - happy with the Wasps win.”