Friday 28 April 2017

Lam's big heart has changed Connacht - on and off the field

Pat Lam: Brought a sense of pride to the West of Ireland Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Pat Lam: Brought a sense of pride to the West of Ireland Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

John Fallon

It is hard to find a figure in history who has united the five counties of Connacht and given such a sense of pride to the people of the west of Ireland more than Pat Lam.

Lam arrived in Galway, with his wife and five children, almost four years ago having been sacked by Auckland Blues in New Zealand.

Few may have heard of him in Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim and Sligo when he arrived in 2013 but it is testimony to the impact he has had that you would now struggle to find a person in the province who has not heard of him.

There is also a good chance that a decent percentage of that population has shaken his hand in that time. He brought the Connacht squad to far-flung places in the province to train, from Belmullet in north Mayo, to Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon and south to Portumna.

Last Thursday week, on the night before he told Connacht Chief Executive Willie Ruane he was leaving for Bristol, Lam launched Galway Fit Towns, a fitness initiative aimed at groups and individuals.

The theme of communities doing things for people is one close to the New Zealander's heart, and there is hardly a charity in Galway which has not benefited from his generosity.

Indeed, Lam has enjoyed the impact he has made in the community as much as anything Connacht achieved on the field, even though he ended their famine with a first trophy in their 131-history when they ousted Leinster 20-10 in the 2016 Pro12 final at Murrayfield.

"The non-rugby stuff means a lot to me. If I am going to have a passion for the club and putting the jersey and the logo on, I have to understand what that represents," he said.

Lam's commitment to the community was evident last weekend.

He went to Dublin after guiding the side to victory over Treviso to pick an award up at the People of the Year ceremony, before returning home to help at a fundraising event for his nine-year old daughter's school in Maree near Oranmore.

Lam and his wife Steph had planned on spending the next few years in Galway because they loved the place but, ultimately, the offer from Bristol could not be rejected given the security it offered his family.

He said the hardest thing is not packing up and moving but "saying goodbye to the people who mean a lot to you".

In October, Lam brought the Connacht squad to Kinvara in south Co Galway to open the new sports pitch developed by Seamount College.

Lam spoke movingly to the students, and stressed the need for them to talk about their problems. Parents spoke afterwards about the positive impact he had on their children.

They, like many communities throughout the west, will remember him for that more than for his contribution to rugby. Quite a legacy for a man who was unknown here when he arrived less than four years ago.

John Fallon is the author of 'Connacht - The Team That Refused To Die'

Irish Independent

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