The Arrival of the University of Buffalo Rugby club caused quite a reaction on campus and although their stay was brief it proved extremely eventful.
Travelling to Castlebar to play the college side as part of their three game tour of Ireland, (which also took in the Ireland V Scotland game in Dublin), they arrived on Monday evening where the local students took them to their allocated accommodation.
The trip was always designed to be more than just a game of Rugby and the spirit of cooperation commenced immediately when Castlebar coach Simon O'Malley took both sides together for a joint training session on the college pitch on Monday evening. In the socialising that followed, it became evident that the tourists were very keen to sample some unique aspects of Irish culture, and so the following afternoon Hurling lessons were hastily given and a mixed game ensued. The resulting spectacle was at times hilarious but credit to the visitors some of them grasped the difficult skills quite rapidly and displayed great potential. The game was not lacking in effort and there were some fiercely contested duels all over the park.
Hurls were dropped and as the teams changed ends a brief explanation of the Rules of Gaelic football was given, (this was a little less alien to the Americans and so practice was deemed unnecessary and they were thrown straight into the deep end) and battle recommenced with a different code. The ball handling was a lot easier and some expert, (if a little unorthodox), high fielding was demonstrated, while they quickly got the handle of the "fair" shoulder! At the end of another half hour everyone was happy, the Buffalo men had experienced Gaelic football and Hurling first hand, everyone had worked off the cobwebs and all were looking forward to real deal.
Attention switched to Castlebar Rugby Club and by the time 7.00 came around a large crowd had gathered and there was a great sense of occasion. A strong contingent from the college lent their voice to proceedings (although it appeared some had mixed allegiances as U.S-Irish relationships seemed to have been forged!!). The size of the travelling panel from Buffalo meant that they also had a large presence on the sideline and neutral observers completed the mix. By the time it started there truly was a great sense of occasion.
Early Buffalo pressure had Castlebar on the back foot, (the travelling U.S. support who felt it necessary to travel on masse as the play moved was also an interesting spectacle). Some stout defending was required and duly delivered, but when Mike Hall eventually went down for a try in the corner within five minutes the signs were ominous – although they failed to convert.
The early difference was clearly the cohesion the tourists had from their long preparation and the benefit of the game earlier in the week. By contrast the GMIT had been decimated by injury, and themselves and the Castlebar RFC players who were making up the combined team, were taking some time to gel. While this process was still underway the visitors threatened to runaway with the game, and they surely would have but for some excellent work from the Castlebar pack.
Niall Quinn, (one of the most effective Castlebar men on the night), relieved a lot of pressure with a combination of good tactical kicking and strong running, and as the half progressed things started to even out.
Buffalo looked dangerous when they got the ball out wide and would have increased their lead but for some very big hits, Conor Ferguson stopping one certain try with a fine tackle. Coach Simon O’Malley was looking forward to half time with a chance to reorganise and a five-point deficit was not too steep a hill considering the pressure. But Buffalo had something to say about that and the applause came from all sectors at the sheer quality of the try that came a few minutes before the whistle. Breaking up a Castlebar attack inside their own twenty two some quick thinking and quick hands saw the ball switched out from danger and into an attacking position, a jinking run converged on Castlebar cover but the ball was offloaded before the hit and the injection of pace that followed left Castlebar bodies trailing in the wake as Fitzjames Adams raced down the line for a second try. Again the conversion failed to find the target but the visitors were happy with a 10 point lead at the half.
Simon got to work on rearranging things and introduced Richie Feeney, Darren Claasen and Daithi Condon while re-jigging other positions for the second half revamp. The changes had the desired effect and soon the predominant area of pressure was closer to the American's line. Fine work by Sean Hynes, Terence Gallagher and Alan Gavin was threatening time and again but Buffalo bodies were thrown on the line repeatedly. The consistent pressure had to tell and in the end one such last ditch effort was deemed illegal and Niall Quinn made no mistake in opening Castlebar’s account from the penalty.
Constant interchanges, (allowed to ensure all participants got a feel for the action), saw Damian Dixon, Tommy Ka, Kieran Flynn, Sean Kirshofer and Simon Tresize enter the Castlebar side at various stages, but none of it affected the new cohesion and the Americans were again having to withstand a barrage. The pack were by now a very potent force and they kept it tight and pushed on through phase after phase, dragging in buffalo bodies to plug the gaps. By the time the ball was eventually worked out wide to Darren Claasen there was no way the stretched line was going to keep him out as he crossed in the corner for a fine try. Niall Quinn stepped up to a big conversion from the sideline and kept his composure to level matters with a fine kick.
For all the exertion, and effort and entertainment served up there would have been no complaints had matters finished at that, spoils shared would have been a fitting end to the evening. But this figured without the sheer class of Darren Claasen who had the final say as he touched down a superb solo effort to seal the victory and crush the valiant Buffalo effort.
The final whistle brought the usual scenes of celebration and dejection, but these were short-lived as the result melted into the greater significance of what this game was all about. An unforgettable experience for all concerned, the visitors were quick to praise their hosts for the hospitality extended to them. But such things are reciprocal and the students who opened their homes to strangers on Monday evening would be waving goodbye to friends on Wednesday morning. The impact the visiting side had around the Campus was obvious to all who made any effort to get to know this great group, (who came determined to have a good time, sample a unique Irish experience and make friends – these objectives they achieved and more), who were fine ambassadors for their college University of Buffalo coach Mickey Maguire was in no doubt that the Castlebar leg of their trip was the highlight of the tour and couldn’t thank the Castlebar students enough for their Hospitality. Staying in hostels in Dublin they didn’t have the same opportunity to meet the opposing players and the small town ambience was invaluable for them, (The fact that the student population of their university is 26,000 explains why they might be so taken by the intimacy of the GMIT @ Castlebar set up).
Sport offers a unique opportunity to make friendships and form allegiances - rugby is probably even more special for the speed which what looks like open warfare turns to camaraderie. The visitors leave with fond memories, exchanged e-mails and promises of return. The hosts had the sense of satisfaction at a job well done and the formative stages of a plan – GMIT @ Castlebar U.S Tour 2007 – stranger things have happened.
G.M.I.T @ Castlebar / Castlebar R.F.C.
Peter Gaughan, Niall Coyle, Alan Gavin, Sean Hynes, Brian O'Neill, Daithi Condon, Eamonn Cafferky, Terence Gallagher, Ivor Gilmartin, Niall Quinn, Conor Ferguson, Tom Nolan, Chris Jordan, Ronan Shaw, Jonathan English
Simon Tresize, Darren Clohessan,, Richie Feeney, Kieran Flynn, Sean Kirshofer, Tommy Ka, Damian Dixon
© Copyright 2003 by www.castlebar.ie and the author