Sportsground side pitch send-off set to test heartstrings and hamstrings

Our Lady’s Boys’ Club RFC  says farewell to perhaps its most-enduring stalwart at the end of November when Connacht Rugby’s side pitch makes way for stadium developments and future-proofing.

The inner city club – an offshoot of OLBC’s Charitable Organisation (1941) – kicked off in 1955, and secured Connacht Rugby’s flagship premises for its own home ground shortly thereafter.

While occasion and contingency allowed a handful of club fixtures to play out on Connacht’s main pitch, the last of more than 600 OLBC side pitch fixtures will come to a close in the customary fashion on Saturday, Nov 26, with three short, sharp blasts of a whistle and a beer on Prospect Hill.

OLBC’s current J1C squad takes on a Who’s Who XV of former club players (and recent retirements) at 4pm on Saturday next. The fixture will be whistled by OLBC’s own Gavin McLoughlin and Leah Phillips – OLBC’s first affiliated female referee. Refreshments will follow at Tonery’s Bar, Bohermore.

Sitting President Simon Lawless said the fixture will no doubt prove bittersweet for those within and beyond the sidelines, given memories made and knocks taken since the mid-50s.

“I’m sure there’ll be a few characters who’ll feel a pull on their heartstrings, and hamstrings too given the age of some togging out. By all accounts, though they wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.

Lawless, like his father Jimmy (and a few other Boys Club families and generations) played, coached, sat on committees and even marshalled professional matchday car parks in OLBC white-and-blue for much of his adult life.

The side pitch has played home to various touring teams (social and professional), as well as Connacht’s elite squads from contracted premier men, Interpro’ women and underage training squads of both sexes.

“The side pitch wasn’t ours, but in a way it kind of was too,” Simon Lawless said, “and I guess for any rugby player in the province the Sportsground always provided a buzz. OLBC had the great fortune to play there every other week.”

His father recalled humble beginnings pre-rugby where it played host to various pursuits including hurling, showjumping and athletics.

“Before the Connacht Rugby headquarters came about, the changing rooms were a long, narrow open-plan set-up over between the big stand and College Road. Boys Club on one side, opposition on the other. That could get pretty interesting after a niggly game, only a few feet away from each other and with no referee.”

While the side pitch’s service record speaks for itself, 1965/66 OLBC Junior XV captain Mick Grealish also deserves a mention.

An OLBC club man through and through, Grealish rose through provincial administration ranks to occupy the Connacht President’s post (2008/09) and latterly chaired Connacht Rugby’s Stadium & Grounds Committee – directly responsible for his beloved side pitch. The Grealish family, OLBC, and Connacht Rugby (among others) sadly said farewell to Mick in April of last year, RIP.

Simon Lawless, President Our Lady’s Boys Club