Friday, 10 March 2023
2023 marks the 50th Anniversary of Donegal Town Rugby Club and to celebrate that milestone the Club is embarking on a tour to the USA in April over the Easter period. A party of approximately 40 players, officials and long-time club members will be travelling to Philadelphia and New York for a 7 day trip that will include two challenge games, a variety of events and maybe even the odd sightseeing excursion too!
This isn’t Donegal Town Rugby Club’s first tour of the USA having done so twice before but coming off the back of the Covid pandemic the desire to tour returned again. President Charlie McGinty has also been vital in putting the structure in place to organise the Club’s 2023 tour.
Donegal Town Rugby Club is a pillar of the local community and they very much work in tandem with each other. That hugely important local community provides the player base, the sponsorship, the support on match day and in very recent times we are starting to see locals donning the Rugby Club’s latest line of sportswear around Donegal Town with the bobble hats proving very popular. The Rugby Club has tremendous links with the other sporting organisations within the local community and very often the likes of the GAA use their facilities. In fact, prior to the Donegal GAA Senior Men’s team success of 1992 they often used Donegal Town Rugby Club’s pitch to train on.
The history of the Rugby Club stretches back to 1973 when a group of local rugby enthusiasts met in the National Hotel in Donegal Town to establish Donegal Town RFC. The County of Donegal would not be known at that time as a hotbed of rugby, but it is proud of the fact that Dave Gallaher, captain of the “Original All Blacks” 1905-06 New Zealand National team which was the first representative side to tour the British Isles, was born in Ramelton, County Donegal. Under Gallaher’s leadership the ‘Originals’ won 34 out of 35 matches over the course of the tour which included legs in France and North America; the New Zealanders scored 976 points and conceded only 59!
Donegal Town RFC has played in several locations over the years around Donegal Town before purchasing their own ground in 1983 at the ‘Holmes’. Through mainly our own fundraising efforts and volunteer labour the club established the main pitch and built the clubhouse as well. The Holmes is situated on the Donegal Bay shoreline and has been described as one of the most picturesque and beautiful locations for a rugby ground in the World. A few short steps from the side of the pitch and you are into the Atlantic Ocean with next stop USA!!
Over the years the club has steadily improved and upgraded its facilities through fundraising and volunteer contributions and has even loftier plans for 2023 with work due to commence shortly on new floodlights at the Holmes. On the playing side the club has been very successful at adult level winning many league and cup competitions over the years within the Ulster province. The club currently has one senior men’s team but there is optimism that the 2023/24 season will see two senior teams running. The club has a long established Mini & Junior section which is continuing to grow and the ambition over the coming seasons is to re-establish a women’s team again.
One of the greatest challenges that Donegal Town RFC faces is player retention from the successful Junior section into the Men’s senior team. Whilst acknowledging it’s a problem the World-over for all sports it is particularly difficult in Donegal Town with so many great team sports on offer for players of all levels and abilities. It is a great thing to have choices but the fact of the matter is that rugby is a minority sport in the area compared with Gaelic Football and Soccer and the club must continue to find ways to attract both players and indeed volunteers. The improvement in facilities on offer and working with local schools is seen as key area for driving those numbers.
The 2023 American Tour commences in Philadelphia with a challenge match vs Blackthorn RFC on Saturday 8th April with the second match of the Tour taking place in New Jersey against Montclair Norsemen RFC on Wednesday 12th April. Club President Charlie McGinty said: “This tour will be one the tour party will remember for the rest of their lives. A chance for many of them to play abroad, see places they have never been to and to visit relatives in the USA that some of them will never have met before. Rugby Union is a game for players and volunteers of all ages, playing ability or social background. A game that you will stay with for life and one that the more you put into it the more it will give you back.”
Donegal Town RFC is always open to new players and volunteers who want to get involved with the club. We spoke with recent addition to the club Padraig Connaghan about his integration into club life:
“I joined Donegal Town RFC last Summer; as someone in their mid 30s with no team-sports experience whatsoever I was warmly welcomed by everyone on the team. My knowledge of rugby came solely from watching it on television but the lads helped me understand the rules, training drills and expectations of the game. Our training is rigorous but accessible for most fitness levels and I found myself playing my first rugby match for the 2nd team within 6 months. There is something very special about the spirit and the camaraderie of being on a team, both on and off the pitch, which I wish I had been a part of earlier in my life. When I struggled with my mental health over Christmas our coach reached out and extended empathy, when I’m stood watching a home game on the sideline any one of the lads will explain things I don’t understand, and when I’m struggling in training there is always a teammate there to push you that extra bit.
I hope that I can be as welcoming and supportive to any new member who steps onto the pitch to experience the grit and glory of the game.”
You can follow all the exploits of Donegal Town RFC on their American Tour by checking out their Instagram page @donegal_town_rfc.
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