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Loughney an overnight success after eight years

Sport
An overnight success after eight years


Ronan Loughney has strong Mayo connections

Interview
Rob Murphy


YOU couldn’t call Ronan Loughney an overnight success or a bolt from the blue. He’s been chipping away at this professional rugby game for eight years now, and the last 12 months have been the most fruitful.
The 28-year-old Ireland-capped tighthead grew up on the Barna road in Salthill, but has north Mayo roots so strong that he spent his teenage years travelling the country with his father John watching the footballers in green and red.
“I remember being on the Hill in Croke Park as a 15-year-old with my face painted green and  my hair painted red, so my loyalties were never in question,” he told The Mayo News. “I think in recent years we’ve watched it more on the television. The heartbreak was getting a bit too much for both of us.”
And besides, they’ve both been fairly busy thanks to the rugby – Ronan on the field, John off it as his biggest fan. It’s been a long road with plenty of obstacles, but under Connacht coach Eric Elwood and forwards coach Dan McFarland, he has emerged as a powerful front row asset on both sides of the scrum.
“It’s been an incredible year,” he said. “First off, I had just got back from injury, I was playing loosehead and making the best of my opportunities even though Wilko [Brett Wilkinson] was going very well in that position. We had a few injuries mid-season and Dan asked me to switch back to tighthead. It went well.”
It went very well, Loughney was all of a sudden one of those rare and highly-valued assets in a professional rugby squad – a prop capable of playing both sides of the scrum. His run of form in the winter got him recognition in the Irish A squad (known as the Wolfhounds) and he continued to develop through the spring spring leading to a place on the summer tour.
“Getting the Ireland A cap itself was huge and it was an ambition fulfilled, so it was more than I could have hoped for to be selected on the New Zealand tour squad so soon afterwards,” he said. “I got on in the first game as well and it rounded off a really good year for me.”
Loughney grew up in Galway city – Renmore to start with, before moving to the west of the city. The local club Galwegians became his first rugby home at the age of just seven. But most weekends and many weeks during the summer were spent in north Mayo. His father John hails from Kilfian and played Gaelic football for the local club throughout the 1970s and 1980. His mother Ann comes from Lacken – the well-known Maughan’s pub is the family business.
“My grandparents had a house near the beach in Lacken so we spent a lot of time there and my dad built a house in Kilfian in later years. We’re a close family – Eoin and Sheena along with my folks have been a great help to me. Between all of them and my girlfriend Fionnula, it’s like having my own coaching team, motivating and supporting me. It means a lot.”
Loughney studied Business and Marketing in the University of Limerick and played rugby for the college before securing a Connacht academy contract in 2004 on the first year of the programme. Two cruciate knee ligament injuries in 24 months curtailed his progress – but also helped him develop physically and allowed him to continue his studies, to secure his degree.
“Connacht stuck with me then and they’ve been very good to me throughout my career,” he said. “There was never a question of giving up on me. The industry is probably a little more cut-throat now, and players who suffer such a setback might not get that kind of time to come back.”
Biarritz are next on the cards for Connacht next Friday in the latest Heineken Cup showdown at the Sportsground. Defeat to Harlequins in October was a bitter pill for the squad, but the huge win over Leinster in September shows what can be achieved on big nights at the College Road venue. Second place in the pool is the target now.
“You can see how far we’ve come in such a short space of time,” he said. “The crowds we get now make such a difference to us as a team. It’s becoming a fortress and we really don’t like losing in front of them. Their backing has been vital and really driven us over the line in some key games.”

Fixture
Heineken Cup
Connacht v Biarritz

Friday, December 7
Sportsground at 8pm