Many Westport and Ballina players have represented Ireland
RUGBY has never had a dominant position in the sporting landscape around Mayo, but it has had a stable presence for well over a century and produced one or two great names for the game. We take stock of the contribution Ballina and Westport have made to the Irish rugby landscape.
In terms of internationals from the county, Gavin Duffy, Michael Moylette, Charlie Lydon and Carol Staunton are the names that stand out. Duffy played underage rugby for Ballina before departing for Cistercian College, Roscrea and then joining Galwegians and Connacht. The former Mayo minor won four international caps, scoring a try away to Scotland in 2004. Mick Moylette was with Shannon when he was capped against England in 1988, but he is remembered in north Mayo as one of the town’s rugby success stories.
Lydon was with Galwegians when he won his cap, having started his career with his home club Westport. He played in the back row for Ireland in their 1956 win over Scotland at Lansdowne Road. Westport native Staunton was a trail-blazer in the women’s game, winning 12 caps for Ireland and being part of the sevens squad in Hong Kong in 2013.
Outside of the full international scene, Ballina have had plenty of players pull on the other green jerseys of Connacht and Ireland. For Irish caps, look no further than the likes of David Mescal, Ger Brady, Ken Doherty, Ray Sheehan and Dave Heffernan, who all made great progress beyond Heffernan Park.
The underage success stories in Westport in recent years have grabbed plenty of hard-earned headlines. The rise of Rice College and the continuing development of youths rugby in the club has led to players starring in underage squads for Connacht and Ireland.
Most recently, Pat O’Toole played for the Irish under-19 club side and used that as a springboard to establishing himself with both Corinthians and the Connacht Eagles development squad. Liam Carpenter played for the under-19 club international team.
Another front row star, Jamie Dever, gained caps for Ireland at under-19 and under-20 level. In fact, during his under-20s stint he roomed with current Connacht star Eoghan Masterson, who has strong Westport roots. Winger Ruben Pepperhobbs played in that same under-19 squad that Dever was capped for along with current Connacht squad member Darragh Leader.
On Sunday, Kevin Hastings will wear the number seven jersey for the Bulls, looking for a second Junior Cup medal. The tenacious flanker was capped for Ireland at under-18 level after excelling in the Connacht set-up.
Westport joint coach John Paul Walsh was a key man on the Irish under-18 club squad in the 1990s alongside two other Westport players, namely Paul Jennings and former Mayo footballer James Gill. We’re told Walsh kept Johnny O’Connor out of the number seven jersey in that side.
The late Kevin Moran broke new ground by establishing himself in the Connacht academy, and won two caps for the Irish club side against England and France. His recent death will bring an air of poignancy to Sunday’s game.