Growing up in Lucan, Co. Dublin I was programmed to associate the game of rugby with those fee paying private schools in south Dublin. A close friend of mine starred for Kings Hospital but that was as close as a fella like me got to Leinster Schools Rugby.
One day, however, an ambitious new teacher from Waterford brought the game to the working class students of Colaiste Phádraig, who up to that point had had to make do with kicking lumps out of each other in schoolyard soccer matches.
Mr. Phelan, or ‘Phelo’ as he became known, set about picking players for positions based on physical appearance. I was thrown in as a ‘hooker’ much to the amusement of my classmates whose crass if predictable sledging made me wish – not for the first time – I had enjoyed a growth spurt or been blessed with a little more pace.
We were shown how to pass and tackle and were given a crash course in some of the rules. Sadly, Mr. Phelan’s rules lecture was a bit like one of his Geography classes in that it went in one not yet cauliflowered ear and out the other. ‘Phelo’ had sin-binned about three players within ten minutes of kick-off in our practice game as his patience ran out.
My rugby playing days were short-lived but I’ve always been fascinated by the game and the sometimes strange rituals that surround it. I was reminded of this last Sunday as Creggs took on Connemara at The Green.
It has been described as “A game for thugs played by gentlemen” while soccer was referred to in the reverse. It amused me on Sunday, therefore, to see the Connemara players and officials grow increasingly frustrated with the match referee, but mindful to refer to him as ‘sir’ when appealing for a decision!
While Creggs were narrowly beaten by a tough-tackling Blacks outfit, their continued rise in the province is something to be proud of. The new playing facilities are certainly worthy of the talent they seem to be producing in East Galway. Much like ‘Phelo’ back in Lucan, the passionate rugby playing public in the village are proof that the game is certainly not the reserve of the well-to-do ‘burbs of south Dublin! Sunday may have been a set-back in terms of their title race but the Maroon and White’s forward momentum on and off their new pitch looks set to continue.