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1 week ago  ·  

1 week ago  ·  

Conor Connelly – A Tribute
John Mulligan
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. It’s a saying that we in the media game tend to overuse when we look for a superlative to explain a moment of genius or that particular time when someone stands up and for his contribution, the team that no one gave a hope to, fights back and wins.
An unusual beginning for a tribute? Maybe. But the moment was one of the finest put together by any Creggs RFC man in my opinion. Creggs were playing Galwegians in the Connacht Under 16 Cup Semi-Final in a game that had garnered more interest than it should have. The first game between the teams in Creggs had finished in an unlikely 0-0 draw setting up a replay the following Thursday night in Glenina. U16! Yes, that age group. But that team had unearthed some amazing players and talent that went way beyond its years. One such talent we already knew was there but that night, everyone knew who this lad from the village was.
Conor Connelly was a mercurial sportsman. A Genius. Already, his prowess was known at school and even at National school we all knew who he was. The days of the Connelly Cup in Donamon had seen him rule the side pitch and as he grew older, that seemed to increase. His time in Creggs NS came to an end and at that stage the oval ball was calling. His brothers James and Robert had already tasted success in some way but this lad was lighting up grounds wherever he went. Which brings us to that moment in Glenina.
Considering this game was twenty-eight years ago, you will forgive me regarding placings but I think I am right. I was on the team that day. Picked as second row with Paul Beckett. Nigel Glennon was Number 8. Kieran Canny was scrum half and Conor was out half. It was a war. A large crowd from both clubs on the sidelines and we were not getting much regarding the 50/50 calls. The frustration was building and following a Galwegians move that broke down, thanks in no small measure to Darragh Collins, Micheal Glennon and Mike Lohan putting their heads where they shouldn’t, Creggs were still in front. One more score would seal the place in the final but we were not making any ground. As we cleared our lines there was a little conversation. I wont repeat word for word but I can remember the jist. For a lad who was known for being ultra-competitive, Conor was remarkably calm. I, on the other hand was not, the last words before going down for a scrum was “Keep it steady”. There could have been other words in it. An F here or there. It’s possible. Galwegians put in, Glennon took it against the head and with such speed it whizzed past me and Paul before we knew what was going on. Canny to Connelly and gone! And I mean gone! Galwegians were caught cold as Conor outran their backs to touch down. I got to him eventually to congratulate him and was greeted by that broad smile he had. It won us the game and we went on to win the cup with Conor again getting on the score sheet. This time from a block down.
You may wonder why I am retelling this story? I knew Conor from our days playing at underage from 14 up. And I got to know him well not only as a rugby player but as a person. And there were few finer. Playing rugby for the brief time before the call of the round ball took over and St Mel’s College, he was inspirational and when he was there you almost felt as if you were ahead before kick-off. Of course, college and work and life meant that most of us would move on. It’s amazing though that our paths would cross the odd time after that. Like when Roscommon beat Mayo in the Connacht Final in 2001. A game I covered, working for a Mayo Radio station and disgusted on the double that not only Galway were beaten by the Rossies but my adopted county as well! However, there was still that tinge of pride that the lad I played rugby with was one of the stars of that final.
Rugby is an incredible sport and where we come from is important. Conor may have lived elsewhere but his heart was always in Creggs. As a Glinsk man we learned that while we may have had our disagreements on the Gaelic field (and there were a few!), when it came to rugby, he was one man you wanted in his corner. I was asked to write this from a rugby perspective but I cannot without also mentioning the man. And he was a gentleman. To his wife Claire, his children Caragh, Rossa and Eoin. His parents Jimmy and Nora, Brothers James, Darragh and Robert and sister Sharon. My deepest sympathies.
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1 week ago  ·