Tuam RFC

Founded 1970

Co. Galway

Club Profiles Tony McDonagh


(This piece was done on the 14th January, 2021)

As we move onto a new year we continue to celebrate our club's 50th anniversary by highlighting those who have made a huge contribution to Tuam RFC. And where better to start off our first profile piece of 2021 than with a man entering his 50th year in rugby and our current club person of the year TONY McDONAGH.


The Limerick native has had a huge impact on Tuam RFC since he joined the club in 1998. From marking the pitches to becoming club president, from being the man with the camera recording games to being the man in charge of teams, Tony has done it all for Tuam RFC. However it is down south in his own province of Munster where it all began for Tony.


"I started playing rugby in 1971 in St. Munchin's College Limerick where I was a boarder. I had previously tried soccer, football, long distance running and hurling but was rubbish at them. As soon as I started playing rugby I knew I loved it.


"We trained every weekday and the focus was to get picked on a team every weekend because we got a great feed after every game. We loved away games at the likes of Rockwell, Roscrea, PCC and CBC in particular because the rugby was great and the food was better!" says Tony.


With a definite appetite built up for the sport, Tony's rugby career was up and running and his first task was to find his preferred playing position.


"I was picked as hooker for the first year that I played. Have to admit that I didn't like that position because it took too long to get to the ball after a scrum in those days. I think every second row had a job to break the hooker's nose by driving a punch up at the hooker in every scrum!


"In those days, obviously not now, I was a bit faster than the rest so I was moved to back row where I played for most of my playing career. I absolutely loved the back row, primarily because I loved tackling.


"We had reasonably good teams in those days and it was a very different game back then but we never won any significant trophies. It was hard enough trying to run in the jerseys that we wore then. On a wet day they could be two stone in weight! And the ball was the same," adds Tony.


Looking back, Tony says his favourite memory from school was getting the opportunity to play in Thomond Park, something he describes as being a real honour. Once he completed his Leaving Certificate, Tony got a job in a bank and was moved to Cork and this began a new chapter in his rugby life.


"A few of my pals from Munchins started to play with Dolphin RFC and asked me to join so I started to train and play with them. For reasons unknown to me I was installed as the team's hooker again. I stayed with them for a couple of seasons until I was called into my bosses offices one Monday morning.


"He was a Pavilion member with Cork Constitution. He told me that he had watched me play that weekend and that I had a good game and that the win was great. I told him that I had played badly and we had lost!


"We had played against a Limerick side away and I knew that he never went to watch away games so I knew there was going to be a problem. He then asked me what team I played with. I thought he meant club so I said Dolphin at which point he exploded and told me did I not know I was transferred to Cork only on the basis that I would play with Cork Con?


"I told him that nobody had ever said anything to me and that I couldn't let Dolphin down so late in the season. He agreed that I could see out my playing time with Dolphin to the end of the season but that if I didn't start training with Cork Con by the following campaign I would be transferred. As I had been going out with the later to be Mrs Eleanor McDonagh at the time, I didn't fancy a move from Cork so I agreed," says Tony.


To say he made an impression at training for his new club Cork Con would be an understatement! At one particular session, Tony tackled the out half fairly but such was his strength that he broke two of his opponents ribs in the tackle. However there were also days when he was on the receiving end of crunching tackles!


"I only ever played in the backs once in my life and that was a cup game v UCC where I was asked to play in the number thirteen shirt. I hated it. Too much space and not enough action. For my sins I broke my collarbone in that game while passing the ball out to the winger before being tackled as he scored the winning try obviously!


"But I have to say my best moments with Cork Con were being asked to train against Donal Lenihan from time to time and being asked to help Ollie Campbell when it came to kicking practice," says Tony.


Following a short stint in Galway where he played briefly for Corinthians, Tony's next job in banking brought him to Ballyhaunis, where he involved himself in the local rugby team.


"I was asked one night by Kevin Henry (Lofty) if I would coach and or play with Ballyhaunis. After some lubrications in Mike Byrnes (Hochy) I eventually said that I would. There was a great mix of players, some who are still playing today and a lot of young talent. I told them that if they stuck to my plan they would win a serious trophy within three years.


"Our first team was average but we had the makings of an excellent under 20s side. Anyways to cut a long story short we won the Connacht under 20 cup in my third year. 


"My good friend Stephen Hosty presented the cup and medals that day and I have to say it was one of the proudest days that I have ever had in rugby. When he had finished giving out the medals there was one left over and the team roared out that it should be given to me. I will admit to misting over a bit that day. I made great friends in Ballyhaunis and to this day I always look forward to meeting them," says Tony.


Once Tony finally hung up his playing boots, his job had him on the move again and in 1998 he finally arrived in Tuam. He had no intentions in getting involved in rugby in the town but that all changed when he met the late Bert Gillard.


"I had retired from rugby and had no plans to get involved again until I met that fantastic person that was Bert Gillard (R.I.P.). He stuck his shoulder to my door one day and said come on Mac you're coming down to the Rustics for a club meeting. Those who knew Bert know you couldn't say no to him. As we entered the meeting Bert pushed a pint into my hand and said "Now leave your heart at the door," recalls Tony.


It is fair to say that this began a journey which Tony himself has enjoyed thoroughly. He can still remember that very meeting and how the club as a whole welcomed him with open arms.


"Paul Cosgrove was club president at the time and was doing a fantastic job. John Carr still had the exact same haircut as today and even then was the Club Delegate.


"I started getting involved a bit with teams starting with the under 14s who were coached by Aengus Doherty and he made me feel very welcome. My son Killian started playing a bit of rugby so I had to keep away from the age group he was in so that he got the best coaching. 


"Aengus and co made a fantastic job of that team and to this day I can still recall the brilliant under 18 team they turned into and their game in the All Ireland! Alot of those lads are still playing with the Tuam firsts today," recalls Tony.


Having experienced coaching in his previous town, Tony got the reigns of the Tuam's first team when he took charge of them for a three year term.


"I got a chance to coach the firsts for three years, this being the previous time they were in the Junior 1 B league with the objective to get them back into the Junior 1A league again. They were an incredible and talented bunch of players. 


"I am not going to name names but I want to say thanks to every one of them, home and abroad, for their friendship. We succeeded in getting back to J1A.


"Our last game was against Portumna. We didn't need to win to get promoted but I wanted the win. I remember begging Dygo to just follow my game plan until we had four tries in the bag. After ten minutes, we had the four tries scored and Dygo turned and shouted at me 'now can we play rugby!' Portumna gave up at half time," says Tony.


As well as recalling the great teams and players Tuam has had in the past, Tony is keen to remember those in charge who have made a telling impact on Tuam fortunes from the sidelines. 


"Sean Lelevre, Dygo, Barry Ruane have all taken the first team since and have brought incredible coaching talent to the squad. Shout out too to Rory Murphy who took over as team manager at a time when it was a difficult role to hold down but Rory did a fantastic job.


"I also want to thank the current coaching team of the mens for allowing an old fella like me to remain part of the team. Thanks Barry, Dygo, Seamus, Slats, your captains and senior players in particular," adds Tony who is the current first's Team Manager.


He also managed the Connacht Juniors for three years alongside fellow Tuam RFC colleague Sean Higgins before Declan Slattery took over recently with Sean. 


"They have done a fantastic job and it was and is great to see some Tuam RFC players playing with them," says Tony.


A Tuam man who played for the Connacht Juniors and who is sadly no longer with us left a great impression on Tony.


"One man I want to give a special mention to is the late Paddy Halion. I didn't know Paddy as long as other members of the club did but in the time that I knew him he became a great friend. He was a complete messer but you couldn't wish for a better friend," adds Tony.


In the 2014/15 season Tony became President of Tuam RFC a role he describes as a privilege and an honour. He is no stranger to administrative duties having been the recording secretary and chair of the domestic rugby committee with Connacht Rugby. He has also sat on various IRFU committees. He has been involved in the maintenance of the club grounds for years only recently taking a back seat allowing John Carr, Paul Cosgrove and Sean Carter to fulfil that duty. 


He was also chief steward in the Sportsground for a number of years. Tony could also be seen stewarding at Landsdowne Road, Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium along with fellow Tuam RFC clubmen John Carr, Paul Cronin, Paul Cosgrove and Sean Carter.


The last two years Tony has taken to videoing the firsts games and has also been a fantastic club secretary over the years for Tuam RFC.


His rugby portfolio is quiet impressive and it is no surprise when he was deservedly awarded the 2020 Tuam RFC club person of the year award. The only person who was shocked was, Tony himself!


"I was awarded the club person of the year in Ballyhaunis but being awarded the club person of the year in Tuam RFC will go down as my most treasured moment ever in rugby.


"The main reasons are because it was my son Killian who presented it to me and set me up real good. He went to the trouble of including a few videos from Johnny Carr, Dygo, Barry and a few more but most of all it is the Bert Gillard clubman of the year award and nobody will ever know how much this means to me. Thank you so much Dygo for this award," adds Tony.


A fitting accolade for a great rugby man and a great Tuam RFC man. We all echo Tony's sentiments when he concludes; "Hopefully we will get back to rugby safe and sound in the near future. Stay safe."

Download ClubZap

Get live information for Club on the ClubZap App

App Store Google Play