Tuam RFC

Founded 1970

Co. Galway

Club Profiles John Ward




(This piece was done with John Ward on 22nd February, 2021)

"Without youth you don't have a club, you're just living off scraps." 


That's the wise words of a man who has put in trojan work in Tuam RFC at underage level and is this week's club profile focus. Former player, president and current youth cordinator JOHN WARD. 


The Tuam man's efforts have seen him visit schools all over Galway to encourage children of all ages to pursue a career in rugby. That in turn has ensured Tuam RFC has a very healthy youth system with many players going on to play for the senior teams and becoming integral members of the club. 


However John's own rugby journey was a case of third time lucky before he enjoyed a prolonged and enjoyable playing career with Tuam RFC. 


"I played mini rugby under the guidance of Ja Gaffney and I stuck with that for two years. The can of coke and bag of taytos after training was a great attraction. After minis I didn't do anything until I played the first ever game of rugby for St. Pats in 87/88 but a serious injury in the game meant we only played once before the team was broken up.


"It was the 92/93 season when I really started playing rugby. Bert Gillard and Paddy Halion who are both sadly no longer with us asked me would I go up and play a bit. 


"I mainly played seconds and I really enjoyed it. Many of the lads became mighty friends of mine. We had great craic after games and on away trips too. I have nothing but great memories from my twelve years with that team before I finished up in 2004," says John.


A three year break out of the game followed before John was lured back to the sport by Tom Newell. It proved to be the beginning of John's venture into underage coaching.


"Tom was trying to grow the numbers of children playing rugby by introducing the sport into schools and he asked myself and Cathal Dempsey would we help out. We both said yes and I've been coaching ever since. We visited schools in Milltown, Belclare, Sylane and of course Tuam and the response was brilliant. 


"I went on from there to helping out at mini rugby. Paul Cronin and Seàn Lelevre were doing great work with that group at the time. I ended up becoming the mini rugby coordinator. Everyone thinks it's just a matter of showing up on the day but that's not the case at all. 


"There is a lot of organisation involved with ensuring you've enough help on the day, you've rugby balls, cones, pitches ready etc. We were very lucky we had great volunteers and parents who were willing to help out. That is still the case today," adds John.


Having obtained a real taste for coaching, John along with Jimmy Maughan and Dermot Fahy were responsible for bringing the oval ball into a secondary school which had a proud history steeped in the round ball. 


"We started coaching rugby in St. Jarlaths a number years ago and even though it is hard work it's been very rewarding. Dermot Fahy and Jimmy Maughan got it up and running and Jimmy is still doing great work there. The teachers have also been very helpful especially Kenneth Mulryan and Mariana Gaffney (a niece of Ja Gaffney) who was a teacher there at the time and a member of our club. The school really embraced us.


"In our first year we reached the league final but unfortunately we were defeated by Roscommon Community College in Ballyhaunis. 


"However in 2015 we brought the first ever rugby trophy into St. Jarlaths when we won the Junior Development Cup. It was a great day and a proud one for me too as my son Jack played at out half for us that day," adds John. 


That proved to be the first of many for St Jarlaths as on a faithful day in September 2019 the school left the Sportsgrounds with not one but two trophies! And again it was another proud day for the family.


 "Yes that really was a great day. We won the Junior Development Cup and the Emerging Cup. My son Carl played as out half for the development team that day. It was just the reward those lad's efforts deserved," says John. 


With the schools rugby proving to be very successful among the male schools and his sons it wasn't long before John's daughter was on his back!


"My daughter Mariah started complaining why was there no rugby in girls schools so we introduced rugby into the Mercy Convent at transition year in 12/13. The principal Gearoid Leen and teacher Hazel Hynes were very helpful and really welcomed us on board. We enjoyed some great days and even brought the girls to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.


"Mariah, Katie Tierney, Megan McHugh, Niamh Carney and Elizabeth Mac Nicholas all played with Connacht and Elizabeth is still with them. In 2012/13 we had the first ever girls underage team with that group," says John.


With the enormous work John was putting into underage rugby it was little wonder when he was appointed both the club's youth coordinator and Child welfare officer. 


"I take pride in both roles as they are very important in ensuring that there is proper structure is in our underage system. There is a lot of paperwork and organising but when you see players not only coming to the club but staying and progressing it's just very rewarding.


"In the last two or three years in particular we have seen a great number of lads progressing onto the senior teams from youth. Lads like Nialls Carney, Cormac Lyons, Ciaràn Gleeson, Cormac Duignan, Darragh Glynn and there is more coming through which is great," adds John. 


It was no surprise then in 2016 when John was appointed president of Tuam RFC. However John reveals it was a surprise that he stayed on in the role for three years!


"It was something I never really thought of doing but when the then outgoing president Dygo (Owen Lydon) asked would I take the role I said I'd think about it. I eventually took it and ended up there for three years. 


"It was a great honour but I really had great people around me which made things easier for me. There's a lot of time and work involved but I can say I enjoyed my time as president," adds John.


It was during John's time as president when Tuam RFC were the benefit of Connacht Rugby Ambassador' s programme. This involved a Connacht Rugby player being assigned to a junior Club and Tuam were very fortunate to get New Zealander and current Bristol Bears player Jake Heenan along with five other top players .


"Yes we were very lucky to get Jake. He came on board with us and had an instant impact on the club. He took a few sessions and the lads really bonded with him. He was like one of the lads and even came to our social in 2018.


"We have been very lucky with that programme. We also had Stacey Lle and Ryan Fehilly that year who were brilliant. In 18/19 we had David Horwitz while most recently we had Jared Butler and Stephen Kearns. They took sessions which the lads got loads out of," adds John.


Perhaps one of the proudest days for John not only as club president but as a member of Tuam RFC was when his wife Noreen organised for the then head coach of Ireland, Joe schmidt to visit Tuam in May 2018.


"We set up Little Rascals in 2017. Our youngest son Elliott has cerebal palsey and suffers from epilepsy so Little Rascals offers an outlet for children like Elliott where they can have a bit of fun and participate in sporting activities. We had a group of ten children in the group at the time and it just happened they were all boys.


"When my wife Noreen discovered that Joe was actually the ambassador for epilepsy Ireland she emailed him and got through to his personal assistant. She said she would get back to us once she had talked to us and we were shocked and delighted when they did get back to us and said he would come to Tuam in May 2018.


"The hardest thing was to keep his visit quiet. We wanted to keep it small because it was important to make this day about the children. We told a select few and of course all the parents too.


"St. Pats kindly gave us the use of their gym for the day and when we met Joe in the car park the first thing he said to us was where are the kids.


"He was brilliant. He really made time for the children. He was supposed to stay for twenty minutes but stayed for an hour and a half. He even had a cup of tea with us after. He was an absolute gentleman and everyone had a great day. He even officially opened that hall on the day.


"A few weeks later Noreen just happened to be chatting to a physio who told her that her boyfriend who played rugby was at a guest seminar in Dublin and Joe Schmidt spoke of the great work that Little Rascals was doing in Tuam. It was lovely to hear that," adds John.


Nowadays John is in charge of the Tuam under 14 and 15 teams as well as continuing his work in St. Jarlaths. 


"I'm over the under 14 and under 15 teams and I really enjoy it. We have great numbers so it's great to have Kenneth Joyce and Brian Ryan on board to give me a helping hand. It's just great to see lads not only coming on board but coming back," says John. 


It is clear to see John has had a huge influence on the club and it has definitely rubbed off on his family. And the club has also developed a great relationship with the other clubs in the town which John is keen to emphasise.


"The club is strong at the moment with a good core. We have a great relationship with the local clubs too which is very important. We opened up our club to Tuam/Cortoon recently and also let Tuam Stars use our ground in the Fèile. When we need something, those clubs are only happy to help us.


"My son Matthew is the out half for the under 15's, Mark is hooker for the under 13's while Carl is first centre for the under 18's. Carl also got to play for the Connacht under 17 team along with club mates Ross Fahy and Dylan Joyce," adds John. 


Tom Newell is back as CCRO (Community Coaching Rugby Officer the last three years and that should mean you do thirty two hours a week work but Tom does a hundred. The effort he puts in is incredible. He's helping out in schools, driving them on, just encouraging people to get involved in rugby. He got the community employment scheme on board which gets lads on coaching courses and helping out with blitzes. It's just brilliant what he does," concludes John.


With all the effort that's being put into underage rugby at Tuam RFC by people like John and Tom, it is fair to say the future looks bright for the club.

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