Galway City Rapparrees making progress in the west
By Cian O’Connell
These are exciting times for Galway City Rapparrees. The emerging rounders club in the west provide an encouraging example about what can be achieved.
An All-Ireland Intermediate Final against Roscommon’s Michael Glaveys beckons in Kinnegad on September 9. That will be the next chapter in an uplifting story, chiefly about friendships and fun.
One of the founders of the club, Tomás Kenny, from a famous Galwegian family, explains how himself and Joe Naughton, stitched the club together. “A friend of mine, who is married to my cousin, but I've known him for 20 odd years, he moved back to Galway six years ago maybe,” he says about Naughton’s central role.
“He used to play softball in Dublin, he was looking to get to know people in Galway. So there is a softball club in Galway, and said lets give it a lash, I'd never played before. We went down.
“Softball is basically baseball with underarm pitching. I thought that it wasn't a million miles away from rounders. We started thinking maybe we should set up a rounders club.”
An idea was planted in their heads, but valuable lessons were learned with the softball outfit. “We played softball and still play softball to a certain degree, the softball club in Galway is absolutely thriving,” he adds.
“When we joined there was nine members, they could only have a team because we joined. Now they have the guts of 100. We became friendly with a lot of people there.
“Obviously softball drew a crowd of ex pat Americans or north Americans, because it was co-ed it attracted a different group of people that you might get at your average sporting thing. It welcomed people of different ages and different abilities.”
That element of inclusion was something Kenny wanted to bring to Galway City Rapparrees, who currently have 21 members. “We started off the process of setting up the rounders club about three years ago,” Kenny says.
“I assumed it would be really difficult, but the GAA made it very straightforward and easy on the rounders side. We didn't know what we were at, but it was at the end of Covid and we thought it would be a perfect Covid sport.
“Softball, while it was fun, everybody else is in either Dublin or Belfast. You were always travelling long distances, all the matches would usually start at half nine in the morning which isn't ideal coming from Galway.”
The planning and plotting began in earnest so Rapparrees were included in the 2021 All-Ireland Junior Championships. “We didn't really know the rules, we didn't know anything, but the GAA had a training officer, who they sent down to us from Croke Park,” Kenny recalls.
“She spent a few days with us going over all of the rules. There was a blitz up in Dublin which was a Junior All-Ireland for men. As it was a Covid disrupted year they weren't able to run a full Championship. We went up, we hadn't played a game before, but we won it and it was fantastic craic.
“Everyone liked it. People preferred it in many ways to softball because in softball you have a lot of positions where you mightn't see any action for an awful lot of time. In rounders there is always something happening, so everyone was included in the game.”
Rapparrees mens operated at Intermediate level in 2022. “We had beaten everyone quite well the year before in the blitz, we turned up to play Emo in Laois, we got absolutely walloped,” Kenny laughs.
“There was a big rise, not only in the standard of play, but we were playing with a softball strategy in rounders. It just didn't work and we maybe didn't fully appreciate the big differences between the two games.
“All of a sudden we were playing lads, some of them had played inter-county hurling, and were in their late 30s, early 40s. At the junior level when we hit the ball high and long, it was hard to catch.
“These lads were plucking everything out of the sky. We realised they weren't hitting it to us that way, they were looking for gaps, hitting not just hard, but in an intelligent way.
“We played Micheal Glaveys from Roscommon next, we finished off the year by winning every game from then on. We started to get a bit better.”
Momentum was generated. A mixed team was formed too by Rapparrees too in the winter, highlighting the progress made. “We were in the Intermediate mens and Junior mixed this year,” Kenny says. “We asked a few friends of ours, who had played softball, to join the club. They did that and it was great.
“In a similar vein, we were learning as we were going. We lost the final 10-9 on the very last play, but it was a fantastic year. All the clubs we were playing and the biggest attraction of the whole thing in both the mens and mixed - everybody was so nice.”
Rapparrees were welcomed everywhere they went. “In terms of going to other clubs, you'd play the game, every now and then there might be words on the pitch, but generally it was very friendly,” he adds.
“Whether or which, after the game we'd be having tea and sandwiches, they'd have put on a mad class of a spread. We'd get to chat to them all, it was really nice.
“Particularly the foreigners were really impressed by that, it built a great camaraderie, not just between ourselves, but the rounders group more widely.”
Monitoring other teams and gaining a real insight into the sport has helped Rapparrees flourish. “There has been a lot of learning on the go,” Kenny acknowledges. “They call it bowling in rounders, pitching in softball, it is completely different.
“While it is underarm it is bowling with speed in rounders. We had to find who was good at that and who might be good at first base. Again we were coming at it from a point of view of what might have worked in softball, which is so different.
“Everyone was trying to find out what position might work for them. The training was quite difficult for that because it was only in games you started to realise what way the other teams were playing and how we should start to play too.”
Kenny praises Galway GAA chairperson Paul Bellew and city club Fr Griffins/Éire Óg for offering guidance and the use of facilities. “Paul Bellew has been very good to us, the whole GAA community from top to bottom has been very supportive helping us,” Kenny says. “It has genuinely made the whole thing an awful lot easier.
“Fr Griffins/Éire Óg have been extremely nice to us, they have been very, very good. They have given us their pitch to play matches on.
“Playing rounders, especially with the weather we have been having this summer, you can imagine lads pitching and batting from the same spot, running over the exact same spot, at fairly decent pace, a couple of hundred times in two hours, it can leave a pitch in bad order. They have been very good to us.”
That others have been ready, willing, and able to help means a lot to Kenny. The spirit in the Rapparrees club matters deeply. “We'd be a bit different - and we may change this into next year - but we were basically a group of friends, who joined together to do it,” he says.
“We aren't like your traditional club, GAA or otherwise, getting people to come in to join the club. We were conscious that there wasn't many matches.
“The All-Ireland Final is only going to be our fifth Intermediate game all year, we didn't want to have too many people because we didn't want to be leaving too many out. We are just a group of friends.”
Having reached a certain stage, now the next question for those involved is how to take further steps. “We are going to have an AGM to talk about it later this year to see what everyone wants to do,” Kenny says.
“Rounders, in general, seems to be exploding in popularity. The amount of clubs is going through the roof.
“We've had a few people ask us if we'd like to have more members, we didn't do anything in the middle of the year, that isn't to say we won't over the winter and into next year's championship.
“Similarly, we have a mixed team and a mens team, but we don't have a womens team. We may well look at that, the slightly awkward thing, similar to other summer sports is people book holidays and you can be stuck for numbers.
“That is why we were a bit circumspect this year, we kept it to a number where we knew what was going to happen. It is not just that we have been winning - which is very nice - or be competitive, it has just been really enjoyable.
“Everyone has had a great time doing it. I think people are going to their workplaces or talking to their other friends, telling them things. Inevitably more people want to join, I think that is probably where it is going to be heading in the next year or two.”