Bright floodlights illuminate the approach road into Creggs on most nights. The location of the light may alter slightly but they are rarely switched off. High electricity bills must be the price a village pays for churning out successful sports teams. It brings to mind the US American Football drama ‘Friday Night Lights’ except this is a wet and windy Tuesday night and the only cheerleaders around are a handful of club officials.
One thing most amateur sports people will tell you, whether they be senior footballers, junior rugby players or Sunday League soccer players is that there’s no glamour or glory in shuttle runs on a muddy pitch in the middle of January.
The reason brave souls have traveled from as far away as Longford and Galway for a midweek training session is the same reason Andrew Fox and I once again find ourselves in Creggs. The masters of the oval ball are preparing for a huge Connacht Junior Cup Quarter-Final against the impressive Ballinasloe this Sunday. That Creggs are underdogs is accepted with a nonplussed shrug in these parts, they’re well used to that. Captain Tom Callaghan jogs over. He’s an impressive unit and has the kind of experience that will be vital in the heat of battle this weekend. He shakes hands and tries to keep limber as he looks back on the journey so far.
“We kind of had a slow start, we’ve a lot of students and with exams it was hard,” he says almost apologetically.
He provides a glimpse into the level of commitment that exists among the squad. “We trained four or five nights over Christmas and there was a big turn-out for that. There are a lot of lads who aren’t from Creggs but that doesn’t stop them being here midweek – the dedication shows that the club is going strong,” he says.
The former Sligo Grammar player knows that the punishing midweek work is vital in order to get a taste of the real glory on Sunday afternoons.
“A lot of the lads have part-time jobs and we try to work around that. We generally train on Friday nights but we try to be accommodating, it’s never really a problem because the lads are committed,” he says with a nod towards the cones where coach Liam Callaghan is putting the team through passing drills.
As for Sunday, Tom doesn’t seem like a guy who worries about the big occasion.
“Yeah, we’re underdogs. We’re well used to that and they are in the league above us. We’re hoping to get a big turn-out and give a good performance,” he says as he shakes hands and jogs back to his teammates.
Head coach Pat Cunningham and his coaching assistants Liam Callaghan and Kevin O’Rourke should have no trouble motivating their troops this Sunday afternoon at The Green.
While on the field things are looking good for Creggs Rugby, this is more than matched by the club’s ambition off it.
Club President, Kieran Dowd and secretary Seán Brandon join us on the sideline and President Dowd tells us that plans are afoot to expand the playing facilities at the venue. His hand sweeps across the land beyond the training area as he explains: “We own four acres and we’re after buying another seven acres. Our aim is to have four full size pitches here.”
As for potential success in Connacht, Dowd is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“The aim is to get back to being one of the top junior teams and the Junior Cup is a fantastic trophy with a great history,” he says.
Winning on Sunday would obviously be a huge step in the right direction for the club and would spark wild celebrations, but the president is also keeping the bigger picture in mind.
“There’s more to it than winning cups. When you have 200 kids out here that’s what matters! The most exciting part for us is that rugby is becoming stronger in the locality, in schools like CBS and Community College in Roscommon and areas like Ballygar too,” he adds before proudly describing some of the club’s biggest moments, including a famous victory over a Galwegians team which featured Warren Gatland and Eric Elwood.
Bigger picture there might be but what he and the rest of the former All-Ireland League club wouldn’t give for another Polaroid moment on Sunday afternoon as the team from the half-parish go in search of more Connacht glory.