And lo, this cultural hegemony of being put-upon seeps across all facets of Connacht Rugby life.
We are the underdog’s underdog, our status as a development team only affirming the suspicion of the average Connacht fan that the bigwigs at the IRFU have only one plan. To keep Connacht barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen, bearing talented players who offer a chink of light and hope, only for our brethren in the north, south and east to kick the kitchen door in, take the baby and punch the mother in the face.
For the most part, it has been ever thus. Formed in 1885, six years after the three other provinces, Connacht Rugby has a long history of competing valiantly and failing valiantly on the field. It’s in our DNA after all.
Before the advent of professionalism and the Heineken Cup, the Interprovincial Championship was the place regular beatings were handed out to Connacht. We haven’t won in Ravenhill since 1960.
Competing against the “native” sports of Gaelic Football and Hurling, rugby is a less than widepsread game, albeit widely acknowledged as more civilised than Hurling.
Of the 90,000 rugby players in Ireland, only 7% play in Connacht, and, for many, the foreigners’ game is still viewed with deep suspicion and talked about darkly in murmured tones over pints of porter.
Connacht Rugby’s existence depends on the IRFU because the vast majority of our funding comes from HQ. But it is not an easy dependency. Ten years ago, the IRFU in their infinite wisdom made moves to wrap up Connacht Rugby as an entity, the situation only reversed when hundreds of Connacht fans (a large crowd by Connacht standards) marched on the IRFU demanding they reverse the decision.
The IRFU, swayed by the turnout – cardboard and otherwise – did reverse their decision, and whilst it would be inopportune to say Connacht has never looked back since, a corner was turned. Or, at least for the fans, and population in general, it has offered that most precious of assets, something shared across the clubhouses of all rugby fans, everywhere: hope. And this is what it looks like:
More on its ramifications next time.
Received from Droptheclaw surely suffering by now from writer’s cramp