Thursday 8 December 2016

Connacht's remarkable run is saving Irish rugby season

Michael McCarthy

Published 30/03/2016 | 02:30

Connacht's Kieran Marmion scores his side's first try of the game, despite the attention of Leinster's Luke McGrath. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Connacht's Kieran Marmion scores his side's first try of the game, despite the attention of Leinster's Luke McGrath. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile

A couple of weeks ago, I declared the Irish rugby season as good as over after defeat in Twickenham. Having had the utter privilege to stand in The Clan Terrace in The Sportsground for Connacht's top-of-the-table clash with Leinster on Saturday night, I realise how wrong I was.

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It's fair to say I can't remember the last time I experienced an atmosphere like it at a sporting event.

There were 7,300 people packed into four small terraces and they turned it into a cauldron of support and excitement.

And it was truly exciting. My view wasn't the greatest. I had been soaked walking to the ground and the evening sun blinded me for most it. But it was more fun than I can remember having at a game in years.

It was also tense. Despite Pat Lam's team sticking to their running philosophy all year, the locals turned into doubters the longer the game went on. Leinster brought half of the Ireland Six Nations team from the bench.

Playing a running game inside their own 22 with a one-point lead was all a bit too much for most of the supporters around me as the game closed in on the home team.

But they stuck with it, and they deserved their win. The stadium erupted. Shane Long's goal against Germany is about the only thing is recent memory that comes close to it.

Nobody tried to get out. Nobody wanted to leave. They chanted "We are top of the league" as the players embraced on the field.

Every last one of them was in the dressing room before I saw one person call it a day.

The Guinness Pro12 is often understandably maligned, but Saturday's game, despite being a knock-down, drag-out, drab affair, was the best advertisement possible for the tournament. For these fans, this was everything. Their season is far from over.

If Connacht can continue their Leicester City-like run, they could win their first trophy in their 130-year history.

There isn't a group of fans in the country who would deserve it more.

Irish Independent

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