To a large extent, it all started with that friendship with Galwegians. Andy Reddington and Ger Coen regularly drove into Galway to train and play with Weigans, which they had enjoyed immensely: Donal Halleran taught at Pres, Headford and was very keen on the game of rugby while John Cooke and Michael Corbett had played with Tuam Rugby Club. John Cooke who worked in the city but had a house beside Lough Corrib, had an infectious enthusiasm for the game and was a good organiser and all the lads remember a group of young boys being assembled to compete in the Community Games, playing an exciting brand of tip rugby, and there was a great reaction to it.
Andy, Donal, Ger and John held the first meeting in the Parochial Hall, Headford: the club was born there and then, and there were 12 at the next meeting. “I had my doubts at first,” Andy recalls, “but we were up and running, from the start, and camaraderie kept us together and everybody was prepared to put the work in”. Padraic Sweeney (R.I.P.) a veterinary surgeon here at the time, was a big help to us and the Connacht Branch were very supportive. When we were up for affiliation, Wegians proposed us and Corinthians seconded it, which was very encouraging.
The founders have great memories of the early days, with many visitors to the first clubhouse out in picturesque Greenfields. The club was advanced in their early thinking, they invited referees to come and talk to them so that new players taking up the game for the first time would quickly master the rules. In that regard Paddy Beatty from the city was particularly helpful, as was Kevin Prendergast from Tuam. The late Dr Joe Costello, a top player with Galwegians and Connacht, also made several visits and formed a great friendship with the club, while form those happy early days Mrs Buckley’s tasty fresh sandwiches have a special place in the club’s history, too!.
Hearing about how it all started, two aspects of the clubs birth were particularly interesting. Firstly, it was an inspired decision not to call the new club Headford R.F.C. although everybody involved was, naturally, proud of their own place. The reasoning behind calling the club Corrib was that it extended the catchment area to neighbouring parishes such as Caherlistrane, Annaghdown, Corrandulla and Claran and also took in neighbours form just over the Mayo border, out the road, such as Shrule, Glencorrib and Kilmaine.
This led to a very successful connection between the areas on either side of the county border, and indeed was instrumental in putting together the team that would one day wine the Connacht Junior Cup, which was the clubs dream from the outset.
Secondly, there’s always excitement when it comes to designing the jersey for a new club: Corrib put a lot of thought into that, too, as they opted for the Maroon of County Galway the Green of Connacht rugby and Sky Blue in tribute to their friends and the club who proposed them for membership of the Connacht Branch, Galwegians.
On the field of play, Corrib comfortably held their ground and always figured prominently in the Junior League, first in Division Two until they won promotion, captained by the dynamic Pat Egan, in 1989/1990 and after that in Division 1.
At the end of the 1993/1994 season, the big dream came true. Long threatening came at last on Sunday April 24th, 1994 when Corrib scored a thrilling, glorious 10 points to 9 victory in an epic Connacht Junior Cup final at Galway Sportsground, against the mighty Connemara All-Blacks form Clifden.
A central figure in that triumph was inspirational captain Denis McHugh. The big man from Skeaghbeg, a gentle giant off the field but a rampaging Paul O Connell- like figure in a rugby pack, was always a keen sportsman. His first love was Gaelic football: he played in midfield for his home club Caherlistrane for 20 years and I always felt he could have played inter-county (he did, a little, at U-21 level) but he was happy to soldier away in club football and he enjoyed every minute of it. Playing both codes also kept him fit twelve months of the year.
Denis, with his brothers Sean and P.J. in the centre tackling every black jersey on the pitch, was a proud man when he led Corrib to victory over the All-Blacks, and it was one of great moments of his life when he lifted the Junior Cup and raised it aloft in triumph after a tense, hard-fought but absorbing encounter which yielded just one try – crucially it was scored by Corrib.
To this day, Denis McHugh remembers every take, every drive and every pass in a 10-man juggernaut move that culminated in scrum-half David Stankard grounding the ball inches over the Connemara line. As Fergus Collis, backs coach in the Cup winning management team, described it “pick and go, pick go, pick and go”.
Denis himself started the move: Val Costello drove on, out-half Eamonn Ryan switched the play and Big Pat Egan got involved: a couple of others then got their hands on the ball, there was an earth-moving drive by another giant forward John Judge, the Connemara defence was under sustained, intense pressure and it had to buckle: John Enda Lee take-tough and of indomitable spirit like all the renowned Lee clan, was one of the last to carry the ball to the line, and Davy Stankard, with his distinctive long blond hair, magically took it over for glory and Corrib Rugby Club immortality.
It was a wonderful occasion for the Club, and not least for the man who had the honour of being president that glorious season, Gerry Coen. A charismatic figure in the club. Ger has served it with distinction for the past 25 years and he is quietly and rightly proud to have reached this Silver Jubilee landmark.
Well-known Headford pharmacist Fergus Collis, who has been educated at one of Dublin’s biggest rugby-playing Second Level schools, Belvedere, was a key addition to the club when he moved to Headford in 1986. Fergus was particularly knowledgeable in club administration, as well as team management, the Junior Cop win meant a lot to him and it cemented great friendships he had already made in the club.
Coach Donal Halleran also brought great experience, innate sporting wisdom and good counsel to inspire the cup win and he, too, remains a highly respected and immensely well-liked figure in the club and indeed in all aspects of Headford Community life.
Some old friends and willing, able helpers and loyal supporters have gone to their eternal reward, with the club having particularly fond memories of their Anglers Rest host David Heneghan. Happily there is another strong Heneghan link in the chain: David’s son Frank is now at the door to meet and greet his fathers many friends from the rugby club.
The club officials are anxious to express their gratitude to the local Presentation College Secondary School, which provided the rugby club with a playing pitch, on lease. The “old” pitch had a pronounced slope on it, and is not remembered with any great fondness by visiting teams! During the clubs 20th year, the bulldozers moved in and a top class new pitch was created beside the old one, along with a floodlit training area and a stand. The new pitch was opened on September 8th 2001 with a Junior Interprovincial match between Connacht and Leinster. This was the result of a considerable amount of fund-raising and hard work by the players and members. The club now possesses one of the finest pitches in Connacht. Since then spacious new dressing rooms have been added.
Indeed Headford is superbly well served with playing pitches, the G.A.A. club has wonderful facilities and the soccer club are progressive in that regard too.
Club president Andy Reddington, another long-serving stalwart held in the highest respect and affection, is confident facing the future; he believes the club now has a strong group of young players. The team at present is probably the youngest ever fielded by Corrib, but clearly they working on the old philosophy “Youth knows no fear”.