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NUI Galway hockey rises from the ashes

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Cha Kennedy and Fintan O'Flynn at NUI Galway Hockey Club's social and family day earlier this year

IF there is one adjective to describe NUI Galway’s ladies hockey club, it would be ‘progressive’.

On the verge of fading into obscurity five years ago, today it is a serious force in both the local and national game, boasts a healthy playing base, and has become a leading light among NUIG’s alumni community.

Up until the 2010 season, fielding a team in the local league or intervarsity competitions was nothing short of a struggle for NUIG.

In many respects, the club lacked direction, inspiration and leadership but all that was to change as a core group of girls came together to take part in the ‘Sports Connect Award’.

The prize for winning the NUIG Alumni Leadership programme was a support package, which included mentoring from the alumni fraternity in improving the administration and other skills of club officers and, generally, aiding the club to develop.

As the 2010 winners, the hockey club substantially benefited.

“People like Aoife Dervan, Sarah Ward, Síle Johnson and Brona McMorrow were all involved in getting the club back on its feet,” begins Head Coach Fintan O’Flynn who would, perhaps, be better known for his playing exploits with Corinthians and Connacht rugby teams during the late 1970s and ‘80s.

“I met somebody who said NUIG were looking for a coach. I had been coaching in Greenfields but I met the girls, along with Tony ‘Cha’ Kennedy (fellow coach), and the two us got on board. We said ‘as long as we are having fun and ye are having fun we will stay together’. And that is the way it has turned out.”

Now heading into his fifth season at the helm, O’Flynn can only laud the players for what they have achieved. Continually he stresses that it has been the players who have taken “ownership” of the club and he says that needed to happen if it was to be competitive. The players had to buy into it.

“A lot of players who come from school teams come from an environment where they are told what to do. However, we try to create the framework where they make the decisions. We say to them you are allowed to make mistakes but just don’t keep repeating the stupid ones. The girls have responded well.”

Indeed, earlier this year, they reached the Irish Trophy semi-final, where they lost to eventual winners Cork Church of Ireland. However, this was a step further than the year previous – beaten in the quarter-final – but there was some consolation on that occasion as they won the 2013 Connacht Senior Cup.

“It was the first trophy they won in 13 years in College. We beat Greenfields in the final even though they had won the Irish Trophy. It was a really good game. So, we have become competitive but it is not the be-all and end-all. Yes, we do the best we can do and we work hard at it but we really put an emphasis on enjoying it.”

This ethos has certainly resonated with NUIG’s female sporting fraternity with numbers signing up each year continuing to rise. So, much so, the club now fields two teams – Divisions 1 and 2 – in the local hockey leagues.

To further underline the significant progress the club, which now competes in the top tier of intervarsity hockey, has made is that it now runs its own indoor tournament for second-level schools, namely the Teresa Concannon Cup. This year, Taylor’s Hill defeated Salerno in the final.

Another welcome development has been the emergence of a mixed veterans section, men and women, the aim of which is to encourage alumni and other older adults to participate in sport. O’Flynn, who works for a US multi-national, explains: “We have a vets’ hockey team which evolved out of the [Corinthians] rugby veteran tag team we had. Some of these guys had never played hockey before.

“It started out of a base of 10 people but now we have about 40 coming and go. There is no commitment. Then, through Tony and my own involvement in NUIG, we linked in with NUIG as a vets’ wing. And we are officially there now.”

The correlation between the ladies and vets divisions has had other benefits too, with the alumni vets offering advice on running committees, handling finances, mentoring on good meeting practice, managing human resources and CV preparation. This, though, has not been the only link.

“One of the big things is that we run a parent-child match. Sort of ‘bring a parent, bring a child’. This started out with the girls on the hockey team bringing a parent out and the people from the veterans bringing their kids out. We mixed up the teams and had a social day. Now, we have it twice a year.

“The girls have pushed that in the College. So, at the end of the exams last May, we had 60 people up in Dangan, ranging in age from nine to 76 playing hockey. This very much fits in with the philosophy the Alumni is promoting that ‘sport is for life’. It is not just while you are in college or when you are young.”

In many respects, O’Flynn’s hockey experience has almost come full circle, in that it was his two daughters and players – Lesley and Lauren – who brought him into the game. Now, he and his wife Susan, a fellow ‘vet’, are as much immersed in hockey as their children.

Along with Kennedy and Brennan, O’Flynn acknowledges the support they have received from technical coach Andrew Kinsella, strength and conditioning guru Peter Moore and NUIG’s Sport Clubs and Participation Development Officer Kathy Hynes, along with the likes of Mike and Anne Colleran and Dave Hickey for their efforts with the vets section.

While the latter is very close to his own heart – and he encourages anyone interested to just walk-in off the street and give it a go – his thoughts return to the ladies team with the new season just around the corner.

“What we really want to be is competitive but we don’t want to lose the ethos of enjoyment that we have in the club either,” he says.

“That is a fairly hard act to balance because the better girls will want to push on and yet at the same time you have got to be able to accommodate the people who make up the club. So, that is the biggest challenge, keeping that going.”

For further information on the ladies hockey team, which trains Mondays and Wednesdays, contact club captain Claire Watson (087-4127376). Those wishing to try their hand at the vets’ hockey – Wednesdays and Sundays – contact Fintan on 087-9292375.

Connacht Tribune

Galway golfer takes top prize in German Boys Open

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CONNEMARA’S Luke O’Neill shot a final round 70 for a total of 11-under par to win the prestigious Allianz German Boys Open at Golf Club St Leon Rot over the weekend.

The Ballyconneely native, son of Connemara professional Hugh O’Neill, held off the challenge of Philipp Katich to win by a single shot. O’Neill held a two stroke lead going into the final day, after recording rounds of 69 and 66 over the opening two days before holding his nerve to claim victory. The Allianz Germany Boys Open is regarded as one of the top three boys golfing events in the world.

Katich, playing on his home course, pushed O’Neill all the way and moved to the top by the 12th hole, thanks to an excellent front nine performance, which included an eagle and two birdies.

Not panicked, O’Neill kept his composure and that ultimately proved to be the catalyst for his victory. The 13th and 14th proved disastrous for Katich. The German, who recently won French Boys Open, had a bogey on the 13th, before finding water on the 14th and eventually posting a triple bogey 7. O’Neill, meanwhile, birdied 14.

Another German, Felix Krammer, entered the conversation for victory as he sensationally struck a seven-iron shot for a hole-in-one at the par-3 13th.

Read full report in this week’s Tribune Sport.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway duo Mulkerrins and Heffernan bid for world glory

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GALWAY ace Martin Mulkerrins will lead the Irish team at the 2018 World Handball Championships which are starting this week in Minnesota.

And the current national senior champion is joined on the Irish team by fellow Galwegian, Niamh Heffernan from Claregalway, in a total playing party of 13.

Moycullen’s Mulkerrins will be competing in the Men’s Open event while Heffernan should be a strong contender for the Girls 17U World title.

Multi-talented Heffernan, who also plays camogie at County level, previously took home gold medals from Calgary, Canada in 2015. A rising star of the game, it’s little wonder that she qualified for Team Ireland.

Another Galway member is Frances Curran, Michael Breathnach’s, who is traveling Stateside as Team Ireland Liaison Officer.

According to Mulkerrins, this year’s Men’s Open singles field at the World Handball Championships is so strong that it will be a case of kill or be killed!

Now aged 25, he took gold at the 2009, 2012 and 2015 Worlds as a juvenile, and captured his maiden All-Ireland senior singles title back in March. This time around he will be competing against the USA professional players in his bid for the World glory.

The blue riband Open Singles draw is stacked with quality and, says Mulkerrins, the player who can marry consistency with aggressive shot-making will be the one crowned champion.

“I would consider myself an offensive player, I would go for the kill if it’s a 50-50 call. “I think especially in tournaments like this, with a round of 32 and an extremely tough round of 16, you don’t want to be in that court any longer than you have to.

“With the speed of the American courts and their ball, I don’t think too many players will be adopting a defensive style. I see it as a tournament where we are going to see a lot of low, hard power play and players looking to finish games quickly,” he said.

See full coverage in Tribune Sport.

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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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CITY TRIBUNE

Hanniffy out as Galway take on the Dubs in quarter-final

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GALWAY’S senior camogie team will be looking to bounce back from their final round group defeat to Kilkenny when they face Dublin in a tricky All-Ireland quarter-final assignment at Pairc Uí Chaoimh, Cork on Saturday evening (7:15pm).
Following victories over Clare, Waterford and Limerick, Galway had looked to seize the automatic semi-final berth against Kilkenny last day out and for three quarters of that contest they were certainly in a good place to achieve this.
Indeed, they had the Cats in all sorts of bother early on with Ailish O’Reilly, in particular, looking dangerous up front. However, with Kilkenny using sweeper Anne Dalton to good effect and Galway struggling to by-pass this defensive mechanism, the National League champions swung the tie in their favour to take the win on a 1-17 to 0-13 scoreline.
While the margin of defeat will have frustrated manager Cathal Murray, there were still enough positives in the performance to give rise for optimism ahead of this weekend’s knockout game against Dublin. “There was plenty of positives but we were just disappointed with the last 20 minutes to be honest with you,” says Murray.
“We kind of threw in the towel a small bit but we now have to look for a response against Dublin, who won’t be bad. So, all round, we need to improve. There is not just one area really but we do need to get a performance to get ourselves back on the road again. Dublin, though, will be no pushovers.”
Unfortunately, Galway have been hit with a setback with the news that Oranmore/Maree full-forward and goal threat Niamh Hanniffy looks set to miss the rest of the campaign with a knee-ligament injury. “Niamh is a massive loss to us,” confirms Murray. “It is disappointing in fairness.
“We also have a few more injured at the moment. Sarah Dervan, Becky Hennelly and Caitriona Cormican are all carrying knocks. Look, they will probably be okay but, at the moment (early in the week), they are unable to train.”
Injuries aside, it is unlikely Galway will digress too far from the side which did lose to Kilkenny. Sarah Healy will start between the posts with captain Dervan, Tara Kenny, Lorraine Ryan and Heather Cooney backboning the Tribeswomen’s defence.

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

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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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