Galway set for rugby bonanza

Reasons to be cheerful...Bundee Aki celebrates after Gavin Thornbury scored Connacht's second try against Cardiff Blues, on their way to securing their place in the Champions Cup. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Galway is in line for a major sporting tourism boost, after Connacht Rugby qualified for the biggest club rugby tournament in the world.

The club is back in the big time, playing Champions Cup rugby (formerly Heineken Cup) next season, which will increase gate receipts due to higher profile games, as well as benefit its sponsors through increased exposure, and boost the city businesses’ coffers through increased visitor numbers and spend.

As well as securing a spot in the top tier of European club rugby, last Saturday’s Pro 14 victory over the Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground means Andy Friend’s team has a league quarter-final away to Belfast to look forward to, on the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Connacht has confirmed that it will play its home games at College Road next season and qualification for Champions Cup does not alter that.

It is awaiting a decision from Government for funding to redevelop the stadium into a 12,000-seater, but Connacht has confirmed its matches will continue to be played at the Sportsground during the redevelopment, which will be done on a phased basis.

Brendan Loughnane, public relations manager with Connacht Rugby, explained that the economic analysis of the impact of qualification for the Champions Cup hasn’t yet been calculated, because there are many variables including who they are drawn to play against. But, he said, it would certainly be a big boost.

“Connacht Rugby’s net contribution to the regional economy is €130 million per annum based on independent research carried out in 2016. We anticipate that in a Champions Cup year it would be greater than that,” said Mr Loughnane.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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