Over the hill: Fond memories of rolling corner-forwards and hardy corner-backs!

Our man Frank on a nostalgic trip to the St Croan’s grounds; A night of celebration for Creggs RFC; In praise of the Rossies (honestly!)…

It’s Good Friday evening and we’re heading for Ballintubber, where our football team are playing St Croan’s in an O’Gara Cup League game. Everywhere we pass, I am reminded of the huge changes that have taken place during the course of my lifetime.

As we pass through the few villages that we encounter on our way, one of the first and most obvious changes is that all the pubs are open today. As we all know, for many years pubs in Ireland could not open at all on Good Friday (it was only in 2018 that the ban was lifted). Funny enough, I have always been happy to abide by a Good Friday ban, and despite the new-found freedom I still haven’t made it to a pub on the day in any of the years since the change came in.

Anyway, business seemed to be booming in all the local pubs we passed, and I suppose anything that helps keep our local pubs alive has to be welcomed.

In Ballintubber, the first thing we noticed was the fact that the Croan’s club are developing a second pitch to go with the splendid new one that they opened only a few years ago. The old pitch, which had an infamous hill on which many a corner-forward had a good roll after getting a welcoming shoulder from a corner-back (it is said some of them were never found) is completely dug up. In time there will be another superb playing pitch.

As a few of us oldies reminisced about the old days, a Croan’s club stalwart, Padraig Conama, remembered togging out under a large tree at the side of the pitch, and noted that the only shower the lads had was whatever rain might be falling at the time! We realised that every club now has super pitches, shower facilities that are second to none, and physios and masseuses always on hand to cure whatever pains and aches the players might have.

As we discussed the huge rise in soft tissue injuries like hamstring tears, we wondered why no one ever had any of those injuries back in the day. My own conclusion, although without any scientific proof, is that all our sportspeople are doing too much training and are asking too much of their bodies.

Anyway, we concluded that the whole thing has turned full circle – we now have pitches everywhere, and yet a lot of clubs are struggling to get teams on them. Particularly at underage level, clubs are having to amalgamate in order to fulfil their fixtures, so while it’s great to see all the improvements in clubs’ facilities, it is more important to try to keep interest alive in localities, and keep our children playing whatever sport they would like to be involved in.

Croan’s won a high-scoring game by a few points, and as we left their hugely impressive set-up, I looked forward to our next visit to see how the old hilly pitch turns out (although the romantic in me secretly wished they would have left it alone, and let some other corner-forward have the dubious pleasure of having a good roll, compliments of an old-style shoulder from an old-style corner-back). If memory serves me correct, Croan’s always had their share of tough, old-style corner-backs!

Creggs RFC celebrations

It’s now Sunday evening as I write and I am thinking back to last night’s Creggs Rugby Club Dinner Dance in the Abbey Hotel. By any standards, it was a hugely successful event.

Covid more or less put paid to big social gatherings, so it was great to see a big ‘do’ attended by more than 200 people. There was the added bonus of live music, courtesy of the fabulous Roscommon-based Heebie Jeebies’ band. We were treated to a superb four-course meal, which certainly lived up to the reputation of the Abbey Hotel.

As the event was a celebration of the club’s fantastic season on the playing pitch, it was great to be there to see the players honoured for their achievements this season. Guest of Honour, Connacht Branch president, Padraig Moran, presented the players with their medals.

Our own club president Adrian Leddy was the very eloquent and accomplished MC on the night, and he talked at length about the history of our club and paid tribute to all the people who help in so many ways to keep it afloat.

There were a number of presentations made, including the senior player of the year award to Eoghan Coyle, the seconds’ team player of the year award to Tommy Devine, the most improved player award to Eoghan Cahill, and the club person of the year award to Shane Fleming. Michael Diffley was presented with a copy of a very special photo which had appeared on the Tuam Herald of his four-year-old son Jack, as he waited for his dad in the immediate aftermath of the cup final defeat to Westport.

There was special mention of Dave Purcell, who was a very worthy recipient of a volunteer’s award from the IRFU. There were also presentations to three of our young ladies who were picked as part of the Irish U-18 squad: Roisin Maher, Jemima Adams Verling and Sarah Purcell. Heartiest congratulations to them all.

Later, we adjourned to the front bar, where a few of us reminisced on the journey from 1974 to now. It’s almost impossible to comprehend how the little village club that started back then has grown into the massive operation that it is today. However, as we reflected, and as we appreciate how big of an effort it takes to run the club, we all realised that at the end of the day it’s all about the players, and it’s vitally important that the very talented lads and girls keep up the good work, keep learning from the very good coaches that the club is lucky enough to have, and in the case of our senior men’s teams, build on the success of this year and go even bigger and better next year.

As we talked about all the changes that have taken place in the rugby club since its inception, we all agreed that with four excellent pitches (one of which is the renowned 4G all-weather playing surface), Creggs is the envy of a lot of clubs all over the country. Perhaps nothing sums it up better than the difference in the shower facilities. The new super-building will house a state-of-the-art gym, along with a mind-boggling 54 shower units, some contrast from the days when the local parochial hall doubled as our dressing rooms and we had one shower head to do both teams; you had to queue to get your turn under the cold water.

Almost 50 years later (in 2024 it will be), it is only right that the modern players have all the comforts that are available, but for all that, pride in the jersey is still the most important ingredient; no amount of rubs, or hot water, or beautiful pitches will make a player play better rugby unless they are prepared to put in the hard work in the first place.

And finally…

I can’t let the occasion pass without congratulating the Rossies on a famous and fully deserved win over Mayo on Sunday – despite all the pre-match verdicts in Mayo’s favour, I was not one bit surprised to see the result. I have no doubt that the Rossies will fancy their chances against Galway.

I also must congratulate New York on their first ever Connacht Championship win (beating Leitrim on penalties).

On Friday night, the most famous Rossie on the planet, Paddy Joe Burke, was a guest on the Late Late Show, and he warned everyone that his beloved Rossies were going to Castlebar to win. How right he was – and don’t rule out Sam coming to Roscommon later in the year!

As for Mayo, it may not be a bad thing for them to have lost on Sunday, as it will dampen down expectations that were beginning to spiral out of control.

Everyone was tipping them for All-Ireland success, and they will probably be still there or thereabouts, but for now they can have a few weeks of a break before reappearing at the business end of the championship.