Gaeilgeor and Connemara man de Buitléar blazes a trail for An Ghaeltacht Rugbaí

The 22-year-old, who is in his third year with Connacht’s academy, features in a new TG4 documentary.

CONNEMARA HAS PRODUCED players for Connacht before but Colm de Buitléar is blazing a trail as the first to come from An Ghaeltacht Rugbaí.

The 22-year-old back three prospect is in his third year with Connacht’s academy and has already made four appearances for the senior team, inspiring those who are now attempting to push through the pathway behind him, including his younger brother Eoin.

colm-de-buitlear De Buitléar at Connacht training. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Based in the village of An Cheathrú Rua [Curraroe] in the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht in south Connemara, An Ghaeltacht Rugbaí was founded by de Buitléar’s father, Cian, and another local man, Micheál Ó’Domhnaill, as recently as 2005.

Colm grew up in a rugby-mad house, his father having played for Leinster at underage levels, and was seven when An Ghaeltacht Rugbaí’s story began. 

“After discussing it with my mother, my dad went out and stuck flyers around the place and got the word out,” he recalls. “The next Saturday there were about 60 or 70 kids down on the pitch. It just grew from there.”

De Buitléar’s story is one strand of TG4′s new two-part documentary, Trasna an Líne, which follows young female and male rugby players from Connacht, Ulster, and Scotland. The first episode aired last Thursday evening, with the second to come next Thursday at 9.30pm.

De Buitléar is sidelined due to injury at the moment having, rather bizarrely, suffered the unfortunate Achilles tendon rupture on the first day the camera crew followed him for the documentary last August.

The injury was shown in the first episode of Trasna an Líne on Thursday.

“They captured it pretty well,” says de Buitléar. “I just hopped up to get a ball off nine and put my foot back and it snapped. One of the lads was running behind me and I thought he had kicked me and I had a dead calf. I tried to get up and it didn’t work.”

Having had other injuries during his career, de Buitléar is keen to get his recovery right, while his mother, Bairbre, has also been helpfully sending him articles about England international Anthony Watson re-rupturing his Achilles in 2018 to remind Colm to take it slowly.

De Buitléar hopes to be back in action in April and though injury in the final year of the academy is cruel as players attempt to prove themselves worthy of a senior deal, Connacht are excited about the Connemara man’s potential.

colm-debuitlear-after-the-game The 22-year-old's debut came against Bordeaux in October 2018. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“He’s got a bright future,” said Connacht boss Andy Friend in October 2018 after de Buitléar made his senior debut in a Challenge Cup win over Bordeaux, while also referencing the youngster’s unique background.

“He’s from an area that’s not known for its rugby,” said Friend. “He’s got a young brother who’s pretty handy too so I’m really pleased for Colm and his family. 

“It’s important that we keep pushing those indigenous boys if they’re good enough.”

De Buitléar grow up mainly speaking Gaeilge at home and at school in Scoil Mhic Dara first, then at secondary level in Scoil Chuimsitheach Chiaráin – who started their rugby programme when he joined in first year.

The late Éamon de Buitléar, a renowned wildlife filmmaker, was his grandfather and had an influence on the young Colm, though more in cultural terms through storytelling and music.

“The massive connection between myself and my grandad would be music-wise,” says Colm. “He’d play the bosca ceoil and I’d play the bosca ceoil, so whenever I’d visit him we’d play music together and I’d learn tunes from him.

“I learned a lot of morals and values from him too which are always important to me. In the second episode, you’ll see my playing a little bit of music so I can’t wait for the slagging from the lads off that! But that music would have come from him.”

De Buitléar is currently studying Cumarsáid & Gaeilge – media and Irish – in NUIG alongside being in Connacht’s academy, while his injury has allowed him to dip his toe in some commentating with Rugbaí Beo on TG4.

He says it’s an easy gig when Connacht are playing well but far more challenging when they’re losing. “But the lads joke that I can say whatever I want because they haven’t a clue what I’m saying!”

jack-carty-and-colm-de-buitlear Jack Carty passes to de Buitléar in a Pro14 game last season. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Playing rugby is his real passion. Having developed in An Ghaeltacht Rugbaí – which remains a minis club run by local parents – he moved to Galway Corinthians RFC from U13 level onwards.

He would join other youngsters on a bus departing Curraroe every Wednesday evening, collecting players from places like Inverin, Spiddal, and Barna along the way to training and then back afterward.

It was in his final year at Scoil Chuimsitheach Chiaráin that de Buitléar – who played for Connacht through the underage grades – began to take rugby more seriously, advancing into the province’s sub-academy the following season.

A year of senior rugby with Corinthians helped his development and he landed a full academy spot in 2017. While expressing his gratitude to Connacht’s S&C staff for their expertise and companionship during his injury, de Buitléar also praises the influence of former Munster wing Mossy Lawler, now an elite development officer with Connacht.

“He’s phenomenal in terms of his work ethic, his attention to detail, and his care for players in the academy,” he says of Lawler.

The experience and passion that Eric Elwood – the academy manager – shows is infectious too, explains de Buitléar, while his relationship with Nigel Carolan has been helpful as he has broken through.

“Nige has been a great help having been the academy director when I was in the sub-academy. When he transitioned into the assistant coach role with the seniors, he had that sense of how you could play.”

De Buitléar played much of his underage rugby at scrum-half and out-half, but Carolan was the one who moved him into the back three. 

Funnily enough, de Buitléar found himself returning to scrum-half only a few minutes into his debut against Bordeaux on a wet afternoon at the Sportsground. He had come on as a wing but an injury to replacement scrum-half Conor McKeon meant the Carraroe man spent the closing 10 minutes in his old position.

De Buitléar’s two starts for Connacht last season came on the left wing and while he’s happy to cover a few different bases moving forward, his favoured position is fullback.

His younger brother, Eoin – who also features in Trasna an Líne – started at hooker for the Ireland U18 Clubs & Schools team last year and has hopes of advancing into the academy next season.

“My father was a hooker and his father was a hooker before that, so Eoin follows those genes. Thankfully, I don’t!” jokes Colm.

There have been a few other players from An Ghaeltacht Rugbaí showing their ability in the Connacht pathway too and de Buitléar hopes to see many more follow in his footsteps.

Meanwhile back in An Cheathrú Rua, his father is still coaching and refereeing, as happy as everyone else in the village at what Colm has achieved so far.

“It is something to be proud of and whenever you go home, people are very proud of you,” says de Buitléar.

“That’s really nice to hear and you want to represent them to the best of your ability so that would be one of your ‘whys’ to get you up in the morning. I’m very proud coming from the family that started rugby there, it’s nice to fly the flag at this level.”

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