REVIEW 2016: A Look Back At The Year In Rugby

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Jay Galvin takes us through the year in rugby from Ultan Dillane and Anthony Foley to Tralee RFC’s fortunes… 

This past year has brought some outstanding highlights in the local, provincial and national rugby scene.

To say that a year is a long time in the rugby sporting world is an understatement, as the highs and lows were so well defined this past year.

The highlight has to be Ultan Dillane and the low point has to be the sad untimely passing of Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley RIP.

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• On November 13, 2015, Ultan played with his club Corinthians in the AIL. He was recovering from an injury looking for game time. From that performance Pat Lam called him into the Connacht team and the rest is sporting history.

Ultan’s stellar performances in the Pro 12 and European Challenge Cup earned him a call up by Joe Schmidt into the Irish squad. His cameo performance off the bench against England in Twickenham was stunning.

There is nothing like a rampaging Kerry man in full stride with ball in hand charging menacingly for the English line – a scene to gladden the hearts of all rugby fans.

Ultan Dillane running at the English.

Ultan was capped against England, Italy and Scotland heralding a new era of Irish rugby. Along with his four International Connacht colleagues he won a Pro 12 final over Leinster and then off to South Africa to play a pivotal role in the historic victory over the Springboks in Cape Town.

Then the Autumn series beckoned. His energetic and skilful contribution to the history making comprehensive victory over the All Blacks in Soldier’s Field Chicago along with his man of the match performance and first international try against Canada was followed by his gladiatorial performance in the historic victory over Australia.

A truly amazing year for Ultan.

For all of us who are privileged to know Ultan in Tralee, either through CBS The Green or Baily’s Corner, he has constant characteristic traits – his humility, his love of his home town Tralee, his pride of place, his friends, his family and former team mates in Tralee RFC.

Ultan is a true ambassador for sport, especially rugby, the town of Tralee, the county of Kerry: he is a role model for all young people, he exemplifies the ethic of hard work, can do attitude, dedication to his craft and when we spoke recently, rather than basking in the glory of his success he said sincerely, “I have learned a lot but I have so much more to learn”.

Ultan now joins a special group of Kerry people who have defeated the All Blacks –
Moss Keane RIP – Donal Spring and Siobhan Fleming.

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He is the only Kerry player to have the treble – with victories over South Africa, All Blacks and Australia in the one year!

Ultan gives of his time to local charities and supporting those of ethnic diversity in Tralee for which he has to be commended.

• Munster Rugby has been in the doldrums over the past few seasons, becalmed in a sea of early retirements, long term injuries and the departure of Munster’s talisman Paul O’Connell – a very frustrating scenario for all Munster rugby fans and (the late) head coach Anthony Foley.

Munster appointed Erassie Erasmus a South African coach as Director of Rugby and in no time at all, he and Anthony turned the ship around and Munster had a fair wind in its sails facing into the season. The team had regained its confidence and its will to win.

Then, the unbelievable happened.

A young Anthony Foley in his playing days.

In Paris on the night before the Euro Cup Racing 92 game, Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley was called from this earth suddenly without warning – a calamitous shock to all rugby fans worldwide.

May Anthony rest in peace.

From Anthony’s sad untimely passing, the rebirth of Munster rugby has occurred; the players and management have done justice to his memory by performing with renewed passion, urgency, style and charisma to play the Anthony Foley way with fire in their bellies and pride in the Munster jersey.

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• Ladies rugby is vibrant in Kerry from u15’s to adult. The leader of this dynamic growing group of players is Siobhan Fleming, Captain of Munster Ladies, she exemplifies all that is good about rugby both on and off the field, a born leader, unassuming but brave and she is ably assisted by Ciara Griffin , Zoe Grattage, Christine Arthurs, Nuala O’Connor, Laura Collins and Aisling Brosnan.

Tralee combined with Listowel RFC is an excellent nursery for Ladies rugby in Munster winning the Munster U18 League title and U15’s loosing out in the final minutes of their final.

The young men of Tralee RFC have represented Munster this year with Joseph O’Connor and Joe Quilter in the Munster Youths and George Downing on the Munster Schools team – these young men have made fine contributions to Munster’s success this season.

Tralee male adult rugby is having a difficult season, currently anchored at the bottom of Division 2 Munster Junior League, they are facing relegation but hopefully they will recover their form in 2017.

Tralee Ladies are top of their league table and look forward to the New Year with confidence.

The juvenile section of Tralee RFC is very active with the under age boys and girls winning in West Munster League and Cup competitions long may it continue.

All this rugby activity takes hard work , dedication and patience.

A special word of gratitude to all the parents who support their children in the club, the club coaches and officers, for their long hours of voulantry work to provide the excellent facilities to their club members.

Happy Christmas to you all, may 2017 bring happiness, good health and success.

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