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When it comes to touch rugby Karen Gallagher is the real MVP.

A central figure in keeping the sport front and centre in Central Otago, the Cromwell College teacher dedicates hours to the sport, co-ordinating games throughout the wider region and ensuring people of all ages have access to the game.

She runs a local school competition for primary-aged players introducing youngsters to the sport, and games for older pupils at rural schools so they can play within their local area as well as helping the Cromwell College team travel to Queenstown weekly so they can extend their skills in an adult module competition.

Gallagher has been named a Bunnings Home Ground Hero, in a new initiative between the hardware chain and Touch NZ recognising central figures in the grassroots touch rugby community.

One of five inaugural winners selected out of 120 nominees from throughout the country, Gallagher pockets $5000 which she intends to put towards travel expenses
and new uniforms for the players.

Hearing the unexpected news, she felt “totally overwhelmed.”

In a fashion typical of many who serve their community a a grassroots sporting level, Gallagher is not one to take all the credit herself _ the Year 3-8 touch competition which caters for 180 pupils is in it’s seventh season and was a team effort, she said.

“I love this competition, it is really driven by our awesome community.  We have our amazing coaches who come back year after year and our awesome college referees who have been part of this competition as Year 3’s.”

The emphasis is fun. The kids love it, and that’s why you do it.  Like anything, a competition is successful if you have interested keen people behind it.”

She was handing the competition reigns to Mike Griffiths who had been an active volunteer in both touch and rugby in the region.

Gallagher’s passion for the game came out of being thrown in the deep end coaching a team.

After “leaning the hard way” coaching touch was different from playing rugby, the right encouragement and coaching eventually saw her take to the field herself.

Now her children play and she actively follows their competitions and representative teams.

Touch was a game for everyone, she said.

“It is easily accessible, all you need is a bit of grass and a ball.”

Touch NZ chief executive, Joe Sprangers, said there was an “incredible response” from the touch community nominating a Home Ground Hero.

“It is fantastic to see so many amazing individuals doing such great mahi for the sport we love, and it made for a tough job selecting our five in augural winners.”

Bunnings New Zealand head of operations Derek Powell said each recipient had made a positive impact on their touch community and contributed to making the game more accessible and enjoyable for everyone involved.