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Galway boss Cunninghan wary of challenge posed by improving Laois

Stephen Glennon

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Laois manager Seamus Plunkett congratulates his Galway counterpart Anthony Cunningham after their 2014 Leinster hurling championship clash. The teams will meet for the third year in a row in Tullamore on Saturday evening.

“SHOW respect, even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.”

Augusta pastor and author Dave Willis may know little or nothing about hurling but a similar sentiment is being embraced by Galway manager Anthony Cunningham in the lead-in to his side’s tricky Leinster semi-final against an improving Laois outfit in Tullamore on Saturday.

Whatever followers of the game think of Laois hurling, it has been on an upward curve. Indeed, having barely escaped embarrassments to the minnows from the midlands in championship encounters in 2013 and 2014, Galway – and Cunningham – are well and truly on their guard.

“I saw Laois against Offaly and they are definitely a better side than what they were the last two years. I don’t think they are getting the credit they deserve,” says Cunningham, who had no major injury worries ahead of announcing his starting fifteen later in the week.

“They were well organised, very well coached, very well structured in their set-up, playing a sweeper. They have a style of play, no more than Waterford, but it is a different style of play and it is an unique style that gets a lot of scores. They are definitely going to be a hard team to beat and I am not just saying that.

“To be honest, we would prefer to be playing the Wexfords or the Kilkennys or the Offalys, these teams that Galway have always had a keen rivalry with. Sometimes supporters think because it is Laois it is going to be easy but it is going to be far from that. Anyone who was in Portlaoise the last two years will have seen that.”

It is also not lost on Cunningham that, despite Laois requiring a victory over Antrim in the Division 1B relegation play-off to maintain their status, they were very competitive in their National League campaign. They have also been impressing on the challenge games circuit.

“Definitely, if there is a team going to break through into the top six or eight teams it is going to be Laois. They are on form and they are ahead of Offaly and many of the teams that are there now. Their underage is strong and they are putting huge work into those teams. The likes of your Willie Hylands and Zane Keenans just don’t appear overnight. They have put huge work into it.”

That said, where Galway have gone in cold against Laois the past two seasons, the Tribesmen carry real momentum into Saturday’s game following an explosive display in the quarter-final replay victory over Dublin.

“You know yourself, you can’t beat championship games and you can’t beat Summer games,” states Cunningham. “We gave a big performance the last day but we are very cautious of this match and we want to give another big performance. You always want to play well in championship but this game is going to take some winning and, again, I am not just saying that.”

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Building for the future on a foundation of youth

Stephen Glennon

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Fr. Griffin's / Eire Og U.12 players, from left: Darragh Forde, Josh O'Reilly, Harry Collins, Sam McNena and Paddy McGuinness

By STEPHEN GLENNON

With the Government indicating children’s outdoor sports may return on April 26, City outfit Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg will launch their 2021 juvenile season with fun games and activities at Crestwood on Saturday, May 1.

These are exciting times for the Gaelic football club. Adopting a “fresh approach” to their underage structure, Juvenile Chairman Benny Lawless says that there has been a genuine surge in interest in Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg since they began to advertise within the schools and build strong links with them.

The May 1st launch will take place between 11am and 12:30pm, with all registered children receiving a full kit, and Lawless and the club will be hoping for a fine turnout.

After a number of years of juvenile stagnation, Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg, whose catchment area includes Menlo, Tirellan, Ballinfoile, Castlegar, Terryland and The Claddagh, has sought to rejuvenate their underage structure in the past two seasons.

Up to this point, too many players from their catchment area were joining neighbouring clubs – usually following a classmate or friend – and the club realised that if they were to sustain their adult set-up and advance it in the years to come, they would have to nurture and bring through young players.

“So, we made a conscious decision to work down the way from the age of 12 because it was too much hard work to try and attract them (players over that age) back to the club. We wanted a fresh start and that was the strategy we took at the time.

“Since we made that conscious decision to concentrate on the lower age groups – the oldest age we have at the moment is 12 – we have been putting in a very good plan,” says the Juvenile Chairman.

Despite a string of storms forcing the club to cancel sessions in early 2020, they did get in a number of work-outs before the Covid pandemic hit. “We squeezed two or three sessions in during February in Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre and 85 children turned up. We knew straightaway then that we were doing the right things and that there was interest.

“There was nothing then until we had the Cúl Camps in Crestwood last August. They were a huge success. We had 65 children attend them and, then, on the back of that, we kept the training sessions going until the end of October when Covid stopped us again. By that time, we had up to 100 children turning up on a Saturday morning in Crestwood.”

Club juvenile chairman, Benny Lawless; club chairman Tom Cox and underage head coach Alan Campbell.

Lawless says it “was a great time for the club” and for Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg this represented significant progress. “You could see the future taking off and that kind of set the foundation for this year,” he says. “There is a genuine interest there of building up a club for the community and it is really joining the whole community together.”

As with any amalgamation, establishing a new sense of identity can take time, particularly when Fr. Griffins, once a powerhouse of Galway football, and Éire Óg had both invested many years in cultivating their own traditions.

Formed in 1947, Fr. Griffin’s, based in the Claddagh, won seven county senior titles. Éire Óg, meanwhile, was founded in 1972 by local men Willie Keane and Tom Small and it won Junior ‘A’ titles in 1975 and ’80, in addition to numerous underage titles in the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s.

However, the demographic of their primary catchment areas was aging and in 2007 the two clubs agreed to amalgamate. Fr. Griffins stalwarts Myles McHugh, Tom Cox and Vincent Gilmore and Éire Óg’s Mike Burke, Johanna Downes and Tom Costello led the negotiations.

Yet, progress on the field was slow over the next decade, with one of the few highlights an U16 (Division 2) campaign in which they defeated Oughterard in the West Board final before accounting for Glenamaddy in the county decider.

Senior players Adrian McPhilbin, Sean O Faharta and Darren Moylan

In early 2017, the adult players met and pledged to get their team back up to a level they felt it should be competing at. Within 18 months, they won back-to-back leagues and, captained by Adrian McPhilbin, they also claimed the County Junior ‘A’ Championship.

A club on the move, the focus then became about how to sustain this progress.

“I know the angle I am coming at this is from underage, but you can’t forget about the adult side of it,” says Lawless. “You have two clubs who have come together and it has gained a lot of traction in the last two or three years, especially.

“The adult team is going from strength to strength – Gay O’Brien from Barna is managing them – and we now also have a second adult team in Junior ‘C’ and we are well on the way there. Those two adult teams have about 10 subs on each. So, there is a huge amount of adults involved and there is a huge amount of interest.

“We also had Enda Concannon representing the club on the Galway juniors (in 2019). So, bit by bit, we are gaining momentum,” says Lawless, who credits Club Chairman Tom Cox for a lot of this good work.

“Tom is a stalwart; he has been the constant there from when they amalgamated. He is a very positive person and he is driving it from an adult perspective while I am working with him on the underage side.”

With numbers swelling at juvenile level, the aim now is to increase their participation at underage by a grade year-on-year. That’s our goal,” says Lawless. “We have an U12 team there and we are looking at building on that, building on those young lads.

“Our target is to field an U15 Féile team in three years’ time. I have no doubt we will do it. Would I love to see a few more lads down with us at that age? Absolutely, and at the minute we are working at building that. As I said, the numbers are going one way at the moment, and that is up. That is really positive to see.”

Under Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg Coaching Officer Alan Campbell, who has experience of working in the county underage set-up, the club is ensuring the coaching that the children receive is “as good as anywhere in the country”.

“We are working on achieving a high level and maintaining that standard of coaching is probably our number one priority,” continues the Juvenile Chairman. “That is what we are hoping will segregate us from the rest. That is what we are aiming for.

“Dennis Carr (Galway GAA Games Development Administrator) has been very much in touch with us as well and is there to help us to develop. So, from a City point of view, it is positive. We are trying to keep up with the standards set by the other clubs: St. James’, St. Michael’s and Salthill/Knocknacarra.”

This body of child coaching fits into the club’s overall strategy, led by Myles McHugh, who is developing a five to 10-year plan to support the growth of Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg.

“If you came up to Crestwood last September and October, all you would have seen is 80 to 100 children on the pitch, beautiful weather, and it was a really good vibe and a real positive outlet for a Saturday morning. That is what we want to continue,” says Lawless.

“I suppose, our biggest challenge at the moment is getting the word out to the whole community that this football club is here and people are more than welcome to come up. We are an open and diverse club, everybody is more than welcome, regardless of ability, be they boys or girls.”

Clubman Enda Concannon in action for Galway in 2019 All Ireland Junior Gaelic football final against Kerry.

Indeed, Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg has many girls also involved and Lawless says the club intends to build on this going forward. “We want to be a fully-fledged club, like any other club, male and female, at all levels. That is the goal.

“We have plenty of girls coming up to us and we have two female coaches at the minute. It is a side we are working on and it is very much part and parcel of the plan. The plan is to have a girls U12 team in the next couple of years and roll it on from there. We are going to have a ‘Mothers & Others’ team in the summer as well.”

If the club grows its playing base, as it intends, Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg will also need to expand its facilities. Already, the club uses Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre, which Lawless describes as “a fantastic facility”, but he acknowledges they will have to further develop their outdoor amenities at Crestwood and, possibly down the line, at South Park.

In this respect, he notes that discussions are already underway to improve Crestwood, which is owned by Galway City Council, under the City Development Plan. He would love to see it become a mini “Cappagh Park”, particularly given Hibs also operate out the facility.

“We are trying to get the dressing-rooms upgraded and this is all part and parcel of this City Development Plan. The City Council has been very good to us, in fairness to them, but now we are asking for more.

CATCHMENT AREA

“We are not asking for two floodlit pitches with Astroturf or anything like that, although you could have two GAA pitches and two soccer pitches because there is that much land up there. So, there is an opportunity to expand the facilities and the club is working on that in the background. I think the City Development Plan has come at the right time for us.”

For now, though, he says the objective is to get the word out there that Fr. Griffins/Éire Óg, which also has the use of Fr. Griffins old stomping ground at South Park (The Swamp), “are here – and here to stay”.

He praises PRO Luke Murray for the work he has done while he notes the signposting they have erected to their pitch in Crestwood has also been crucial. “The signs have given us a visibility to let people know where we are, that we are as good as any other club around, that everyone is more than welcome, and that we are a community-based club.”

“So, there is a lot happening in the background at the minute and we also have a new website, we have the Clubforce app and, as I said, we have our registration and launch day on May 1. Obviously, that is dependent on Covid announcements,” stresses Lawless.

  • For further information, check out the club’s website: fgeo.ie. Registration for 2021 is currently available on Clubforce: Fr. Griffin’s Éire Óg.
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CITY TRIBUNE

Connacht left down and out as Leicester coast home

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Connacht scrum half Kieran Marmion who scored their opening try in Saturday's European Challenge Cup defeat by Leicester.

Leicester 48

Connacht 32

THE scoreline isn’t easy on the eye and this report must follow suit. Connacht have more problems brewing than they would like to admit. A flawed and ultimately disappointing season reached a low point at the famous Welford Road on Saturday as they exited Europe without much to show for their efforts. Out fought, out muscled and outclassed by a Leicester side that were missing almost their entire first team squad.

Connacht scored four tries in this Challenge Cup last 16 encounter and had their moments in an exciting second half but when the final whistle arrived, the 16 point deficit felt about right. A more powerful, clinical and streetwise Leicester had toyed with the visitors for much of the 80 minutes and when the questions were asked, the Englishmen had the answers in their forward pack. Lineouts, mauls and good old fashioned hard hits got the job done as the westerners wilted and fell apart.

All of this season’s failings were exposed, the defence is arguably as bad as it’s ever been in the professional era, their ability to stop the lineout, catch and drive from the opposition has completely deserted them, missed tackles crop up at key junctures, positioning in the back three was again caught out and the ball carrying of the forwards in close contact with defence continues to be ineffective.

The usual stuff worked well, Connacht were sharp on attacks from deep in their own half, making big gains there. They also made some impressive inroads at the breakdown where Leicester’s pillar defence was badly exposed for two tries as Connacht basically picked the ball up in the ruck and went right through the middle. The second half fightback showed the endeavour, honesty and pride that’s needed but that’s about it.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Flynn’s fitness eyes opened by Australia’s approach to it

Stephen Glennon

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Craughwell native and Athlone IT sports science student, Adam Flynn.

ONE would hardly think that there is a global pandemic ongoing looking at the TV images from the Southern Hemisphere, but Athlone IT sports science student Adam Flynn, who was working in Australia when Covid-19 hit, says the country was strong in its approach to tackling the pandemic and that it is now reaping dividends.

“Australia did lockdown fairly quick (in March 2020),” recalls Flynn, “although there weren’t many cases in Australia when it locked down. While I know most countries did lock down, one of the main differences I saw was that the sanctions for breaking the lockdown were a lot stricter over there.

“I think when you have stricter sanctions, people are less likely to go down to the shop to get one or two bits and risk spreading it. As well as that, they had free Covid testing centres everywhere. So, if you felt you had it, or even if you didn’t know you had it and wanted to get tested, because some people could be asymptomatic, you could pop in and get a test.”

The short-term pain has led to long term gain in Australia with a level of normality resuming. No wonder Craughwell native Flynn, having returned to complete his final year of study at Athlone IT last September, is envious.

“If I’d realised that the course was going to be online, I would have stayed in Australia,” says the sports science student. “I was on campus twice or three times in the first semester and we haven’t been on it at all this semester. So, if I realised that, I would have done it online from out there. I don’t really regret it, either. Hopefully, things will open up again soon.”

In all, Flynn spent almost two years in Australia, eight months of which was working under Christian Woodford of Woodford Sports Science Consulting in Melbourne. “He works with all levels of athletes, focusing on their physical preparation for the game,” he says.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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