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Emotional night as Connacht pays tribute to a true legend

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 07-May-2013

 PAT Lam stared down from the top floor of the main greyhound stand on Friday night, detached from it all in one sense, but very much at the core of it all in another.

He watched the crowd – recorded as 6,081 – pay homage to Connacht rugby’s greatest ever servant in the most emotional scenes the unique venue has ever seen.

A half hour before all that, he had heard a roar that defied science on 50 minutes when another of the province’s great servants, Johnny O’Connor, made his way to the sideline for the last time. An openside flanker who encapsulates everything it is to be a Connacht sportsman.

Fearless, tenacious, at times mad, always honest. O’Connor’s career has been a lesson in perseverance and hard work and the reception was the way the people of Connacht chose to say thank you.

The performance from the team on the night definitely suffered to some degree with all the distractions.

Connacht were bullied off the park by a Glasgow team that should be held up as an example of what can be achieved by a franchise with a small budget and with a tiny fanbase, thanks to a tremendous application to their duty under the guidance of coach of the year, Gregor Townsend.

They put Connacht away in the final quarter, unloading a bench full of Internationals and a couple of British and Irish Lions for good measure.

Connacht had spent 10 minutes in their 22 and got nothing, trailing 13-3 at that point. Sean Maitland, the Kiwi born Scottish transferred Lion, got the try after the irrepressible Nikola Matawalu carved Connacht open.

The man of the night, Eric Elwood, will look back at this one with frustration, but the injury count coming in was phenomenal and it has been a huge concern all season.

Nathan White, Denis Buckley, Jason Harris Wright, Willie Faloon, George Naoupu, Frank Murphy, Dave McSharry, Kyle Tonetti and Robbie Henshaw were all ruled out, with Fetu’u Vainikolo joining them just before kick-off when injuring himself in the warm-up.

For Elwood, the 15 minutes after the final whistle will be the lasting memory, and that’s how it should be. This was his moment, a man who was always reluctant to take too much of the spotlight stood out on that field and took the time to salute every corner of the ground.

In the background, the big screen played clips of his greatest moments in Ireland and Connacht jerseys.

The clip of his reaction to his drop goal against England in Lansdowne Road was the takeaway moment, a little smile of a man grounded in the world of amateur sports but aware that for those few seconds he had a country, moreover a whole island, in the palm of his hand.

On Galway Bay FM, Joe Healy told us a tale of half the Galwegians club heading to Cardiff to watch him lead Ireland to a rare win there in 1993 in one of his early appearances in a 35 cap career.

Others will have recalled his performance in Twickenham that day when Connacht teammate Simon Geoghegan scored that try in 1994. Every Connacht fan will remember his try against Harlequins under the sticks 10 years later.

When he walked through the Clan Stand tunnel, he was for all intents and purposes at the conclusion of a huge project (barring what he described as a series of end-of-season IRFU reports and paperwork which he planned to get stuck into from Wednesday.) The weight was gone, the burden he had placed on himself lifted and what he described as a ‘life in a fishbowl’ about to change.

It is on Tom Sears now. Coaches are always the front men, often the fall guys and when they are local heroes like Elwood, they become the one and only face of a team, a franchise, a province. Lam will take some of the heat for sure, but the Connacht CEO is building a project in an effort to make some noise across Europe.

The foundations are there, the stumbling blocks haven’t gone away either but the ethos that Elwood has carved out of the last three seasons is clear for all to see.

Eight born and bred Connacht rugby men were involved on Friday night. A further four players who have come through the development structures in the province also took to the field.

Those are the raw materials Lam has to work with, and there is no time like the present to deliver. This isn’t a rebuilding project, it’s a continuity and development scenario.

This team has the capabilitiesto be the first Connacht team ever to win 50% of their league games and that should be their target. Just three more wins would do it.

The night itself had some on-field action that we have ignored up to this point. Canadian winger DTH Van Der Merwe broke his club’s tryscoring record with an early try carved out on the short side were Connacht were weak in defence. A late Dan Parks penalty had kept the home side in touch at 10-3 down turning with the wind.

That Sportsground wind died a death in the second half, but it wasn’t the key factor to the defeat either. It was 13-3 when Connacht had their best spell. Over 10 phases in the visitors’ 22 camped on their line, but it yielded nothing and before the game was done, the replacements from Glasgow had their say with Maitland’s try for a 20-3 win.

Adrian Flavin marked his retirement with a burst from the bench in the final quarter, a committed member of the squad since 2005 and a popular soul.

Mike McCarthy marked his final game with the province at the end of his second stint here before heading to Leinster. Fetu’u Vainikolo didn’t get a chance to do likewise as he pulled up in the warm up. A popular figure too.

Yet this was the night for local heroes as the changing of the guard was completed. In just three short months from now, the pre-season training will be coming to an end and the visit of London Wasps will be on the horizon.

The big wheel keeps turning.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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