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Still waiting for Connaught Cup medal five decades on

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 6th July, 2011 5:23pm

Still waiting for Connaught Cup medal five decades on

Framed photos of the victorious Ballinasloe rugby team holding the Connaught Junior Cup aloft for the 1957/1958 season takes pride of place in Paddy Cusack's home in the centre of Taughmaconnell. But one thing is missing over five decades later - the medal to go with them.

Despite several attempts over the years, Paddy says he could never find out why the team, which also included Ray McLoughlin, who went on to captain Ireland, were never presented with their cup winning medals. Now, on the eve of his 85th birthday, he says he'd like nothing more than belatedly to hang up his medal on the wall beside the team pictures.

He jokes that he'd even pay for the medal at this stage, adding that the opportunity to meet up with his old team mates fifty years after their famous triumph would be a fabulous occasion as they are scattered all over the country and abroad.

"We might get our medal yet. It would be a grand thing to have," Paddy, a father of seven, said this week, telling of story he heard on radio recently about musicians and singers from a Feis Ceoil in Leitrim who were just presented with their medals thirty years after they won them.

"I never let on, if anyone said 'I'd say I have a Connaught Junior medal', which I haven't, but no one ever said show it to me. I love to get the medal because I've a grand-daughter there and she's a great dancer," Paddy remarked.

"She comes in here of a Sunday evening, and she says 'Here granddad here's what I won today'. Well, she must have hundred medals, some of them are silver and some bronze."

A real character and storyteller, Paddy recalls jovially that his first experience of rugby came about by complete accident at late age of 32.

"I was too old at the time," he laughs, explaining that he was in Killeens house in Togher to bring the family to Mass in his hackney car when a Fr Christy Glynn from Garbally College called in.

He asked him and Tom Killeen to come and play as they were short of players for a match that day.

"He said to me will you come to Roscommon, we have a rugby match in Roscommon. Rugby match, I said. I'd never seen a rugby match which I didn't. I'd never even seen a rugby ball."

"Be god, we went down to Roscommon and they knew I never played," he remembers of asking the other players there what were the rules of the game. "They said to me do you see that line across there, if you are able to get the ball over that line and leave it down. Oh God, blast it, there's no delay in doing that," he says chuckling heartily at the memory.

Holding his walking stick, he smiles as he thinks back to that very first match. "About 15 or 20 minutes were played anyhow and this lad before me, a tall laddie from Ballinasloe went up to get the ball, but didn't he let it fall out of his hands. I was standing behind him and didn't I get it and away with me. They tackled me and tore the whole collar of the jersey off me but they weren't able to hold me. I was strong at the time," he recalls proudly.

"I went over straight and left down the ball and they said 'Ah why didn't you go over under the goal posts. It was easier for the lad to take the conversion then but sure I didn't know that," he jokes.

After making such a good impression on his first outing, Paddy was asked back and Sundays were spent travelling all over the country for a matches or practice bouts.

"They asked me to go to matches and I had the new car then at the time and I used to drive down to Sligo, Mayo, the Sportsgrounds in Galway and I played below in Garryowen in Limerick and all," Paddy, who had earlier played football with Taughmaconnell, says of his unlikely new pastime that he proudly says he learned how to play from a book.

He remembers getting a rugby book from Shay Darcy, captain of the team when they won the Connaught Junior Cup and learning from that.

Of that big match day, he remembers travelling all the way to the Showgrounds in Galway to meet their opponents Rovers, a "tough crowd" as he dubs them. So much so, he says after one of their team hit him early on he retaliated and almost got sent off, save for the protests and appeals from Fr Christy Glynn, who ensured he stayed on the field.

Lucky for Ballinasloe he did, with just minutes to go in a tight encounter, Paddy left his lasting mark on the game. "Four minutes to go there was a loose scrummage and they weren't able to hold me. I burst through running and fired it back under my two legs to Ray McLoughlin and he scored a try. We won by two points," he recalls happily.

Afterwards, his marker sought him out to tell him after 30 years of rugby he was "one of the toughest yokes," he'd ever come across.

Remarkably for the time when the game wouldn't have been played by many in South Roscommon, the team also boasted three other Taughmaconnell players, Tom Killeen who played alongside Paddy, along with Jackie Costello and Jimmy Lyons who were subs.

Over five decades ago now, he recalls vividly the celebrations in Galway till 4am and later bringing the impressive Connaught Junior Cup back to Taughmaconnell, where it was proudly displayed in Costellos even though there were some who turned their nose up at it, Paddy, who farmed in the area smiles thinking back this week. Still an avid rugby and sports fan in general, he follows the fortunes of Munster closely and looks over at a television before pronouncing with a burst of laughter:

"No match will pass me." Still sweeter though, he says would be able to look up on the wall and see his own elusive medal, fifty four years after their famous triumph.

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