Siobhán Galvin hardly fits the rugby stereotype? Perhaps more at home with Shakespeare, one of the schools English teachers at St Catherine’s Vocational school in Killybegs last January started up the school’s first under 16s rugby team. A few years ago the school had an under 14s team, however things did not progress.
Unlike in many areas of the country, especially the European Cup winning areas of Ulster, Leinster and Munster, Donegal, not least South West Donegal, has never had an indigenous culture of rugby, but with the rise of Ulster based Irish rugby superstars like winger Tommy Bowe, rugby is slowly getting a foothold in an area usually reserved for GAA games. This is what makes her team so young and exciting.
Some of the students from St Catherine’s Vocational School already play for the Donegal Town under 16’s rugby club team; however there was on-going interest in getting a school team up and running.
Ms. Galvin note: “Each week students were constantly coming up to me, and asking me can we please get a school rugby team organised?” And Galvin, who over the years had enjoyed watching rugby from the comfort of her television armchair, thought that she might be able to help.
So last December one of the enthusiastic students presented her with a list of 25 names of students who were genuinely interested in starting up an under 16s team. How could she refuse? Ms Galvin only agreed to coach the team on the condition that all the players must prove they were dedicated and willing to abide by the rules of the game and that more importantly, that they have respect for themselves and all other players.
It is now the end of March and St Catherine’s have just played their first match, against The Abbey Vocational School in Donegal Town. The proud coach looked on from the sideline as her players grew into the game. “We were a bit nervous early on, I more so than anyone, but our lineout and scrum was great, and once we grew in confidence we scored some great tries.’’
The team is made up of students, some of whom have previous experience of playing the game. However, about fifty per cent of the current team has never played before and over the past two months have made great progress learning about the basics of the sport and developing their skills. This new team is being viewed as something new and exciting by many in the school, and for many another positive outlet and opportunity to partake in sport.
Armed with a coach’s whistle, a tracksuit and a passion for the game Galvin admitted she was extremely nervous when she took her first coaching session; it was unchartered territory for an adopted Donegal woman in a sport predominantly dominated by males, but her honest approach has already won over even some of the most diehard rugby playing students who seem to have inherited Galvin’s infectious nature for the oval ball, her organisational skills and her need to now know the game inside and out.
During the week she ditches her English books for tackle bags, as she puts the boys through their paces. It is still early days, but she has already enlisted the help of the Ulster branch of the IRFU through the services of their development officer Declan Gallagher whose role is to provide support and coaching advice for students and coaches in local schools, while also trying to promote an interest in and awareness of rugby at primary and secondary school level.
Galvin already admits to be learning as much at each session as the players do, and is indebted to the help that the likes of the Ulster Branch and Gallagher can bring, but she also praises the attitudes of some of the more experienced rugby players in her team, that already know the game. “They are really great,” Galvin beams enthusiastically. “They not only help me with the rudiments of the game, but more importantly they are patient and help the other less experienced rugby players as well. There are no egos in this team, in many ways we are like a big rugby family.”
Each week comes new enquiries, and since she got the under 16’s up and running there is now already a list of 20 fledgling young under 14 year olds who ask “when is she forming an under 14 team as well”
St Catherine’s might have set a precedent in forming its first under 16 schoolboys rugby team, but this team was formed due to genuine interest and love of the sport amongst the students and its new coach.
Galvin emphasises that “becoming a successful team is something the boys know will come at a cost, primarily hard work, dedication, self belief and an underlying hunger to succeed and eventually win matches. Starting up was the easy part; to carry the plan forward and win is going to be our primary challenge and that like all things will take time”
She notes: “Although our team is only up and running and our resources limited, especially compared to many of the private schools in the country where rugby has been part of their sporting curriculum for decades, we have to start somewhere. In many ways my role is to recognise the talent and encourage them to believe in themselves and tell them to be the best they can be. Who knows, there is no reason why in a few years’ time St Catherine’s may produce their own flying Tommy Bowe.” Galvin smiles; “plenty done, plenty left to do.”