Lions Origin Story: Family at the heart of success for Buccaneers RFC

Buccaneers RFC is more than just a rugby club, it’s a way a life for the people of Athlone.  [more]

Lions Origin Story: Family at the heart of success for Buccaneers RFC

Located on the River Shannon, the town in the heart of Ireland’s midlands is inextricably intertwined with the club which has seen generations of families come through its ranks. 

Among the players the club has fostered over the years is Ireland international and British & Irish Lions tourist Robbie Henshaw, who became Lion No.824 in New Zealand in 2017. 

Like so many at Buccaneers, Henshaw’s father Tony and uncle David had also played for the club before him – with the latter going on to represent Connacht during the 1990s. 

Canterbury will be offering Lions Origin Clubs – those teams who have produced a player who has gone on to play for the Lions – the opportunity to have their Canterbury kits personalised with the logo of the Lions Origin Club to proudly celebrate the achievement. You can find out if your club is a Lions Origin Club by visiting the Lions Origin Club map.

In fact, the importance of family permeates almost every aspect of Buccaneers and it’s the reason why club president Eamon Collins believes rugby runs through the veins in Athlone. 

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“Everybody that comes to the club enjoys playing, there is a great sense of community in the club, they come in at under six and they never seem to leave because they like it so much,” he said. 

“There’s great teamwork, discipline, enjoyment and sportsmanship around the place and there’s a real sense of family – that’s what is so great about the club. 

“This is very true of the Henshaws. The Henshaws have been in the club, their father and uncles have played at the club and they have done an awful lot at the club since they started playing. 

“Robbie is still very involved, he’s a great ambassador for our club and we’re very proud of him. Buccaneers is at the heart of Athlone and rugby is everything in Athlone. 

“Everyone wants to play, everyone wants to be involved and the big problem we have is trying to facilitate all these young players as they all want to become the next Robbie Henshaw and Jack Carty. 

“People come and join the club as underage players and when their playing career finishes, they often continue with the club as administrators, coaches, referees and whatever else. 

“It very much passes through the generations. If you look back through the history of the club, it goes from generation to generation like it does with the Henshaws.” 

The club’s name originates from the Shannon Buccaneers, which was founded by Diarmuid Murtagh in the 1930s and fielded players such as 1938 Lions captain Sammy Walker. 

But after World War Two forced the club to fold and be disbanded, it wasn’t until the formation of Athlone Rugby Football Club in 1951 that rugby was revived in the town. 

More recently, in the 1993/94 season, Athlone and Ballinasloe amalgamated to compete in the All-Ireland League before eventually changing their name to Buccaneers RFC. 

Leo Galvin was one of the people who was instrumental in the alliance with Ballinasloe, which ended in 2005/06, and he was the first Athlone clubman to play senior rugby for Ireland. 

And with Jack Carty and Henshaw since following in the footsteps of Galvin, Buccaneers media officer Michael Silke believes their rise through the ranks has inspired the next generation. 

“We have supplied a number of players to Connacht and a number of lads were in the Connacht squad, including Jack Carty and Robbie Henshaw, when they won the PRO12 title in 2016,” he said.

“Athlone is a garrison town and garrison towns are traditionally soccer towns. We have a lot of competition from Gaelic as we have six very good GAA clubs within five miles. 

“There’s lots of competition for players so the fact that young lads started coming through and wearing the green of Ireland and Robbie and Jack played senior rugby for Ireland was inspiring. 

“We have around 400 kids now at the club, many more than when I first got involved with the club, and we have 25 teams in total from adults and the Under-20s down to the minis. 

“There was great excitement around the place and pride when Robbie was selected for the Lions in 2017. To get players coming through and playing for Ireland U20s was a great achievement. 

“But when you have guys like Robbie making the senior Ireland squad and then being included in the last British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand, it was incredible for the club.” 

Buccaneers have enjoyed plenty of success on the field themselves over the years, winning the Connacht Senior League 12 times and the Connacht Senior Cup on eight occasions. 

Among those currently representing the club is first team captain Evan Galvin, who like Henshaw before him, was introduced to Buccaneers through his family’s long association with the club. 

And Galvin, the nephew of Leo, hopes the example set by Lions tourist Henshaw can keep the conveyer belt of youngsters coming through the ranks at Buccaneers for years to come. 

“There is definitely a family feel to the club. Young kids come down and play and if they enjoy it, they stick at it. There’s also a core volunteer group of parents who support,” he said. 

“It’s great for the club that Robbie and Jack have gone on and represented Ireland. There are lads in the past that have done so too and it shows there’s a good love for the game here. 

“There is development in the Midlands of Ireland, with players going on to represent the club and the province and then the country and the Lions. The club is very proud of the lads. 

“They always give their time to come down and help out with underage sessions. It inspires young lads to play. If you’re a young kid and you see someone like that it’s great. 

“There is a lot of sports that the lads can play at an early age so it’s important these young lads who play rugby are inspired to keep playing and stick at it, be the next Robbie Henshaw. 

“If they can be inspired to keep playing from the younger ages groups through to the first team, that’s a pathway we’ve show is there and it’s important to inspire that next generation.” 

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