Big hunger from all of our players to improve
Published 15/01/2016 | 02:30
We're just over half way through the season and personally, I am really enjoying what we're doing this year.
We're in to January and still in the top four of the Pro12 and heading to Brive this weekend on top of Pool 1 in the Challenge Cup.
So we are tracking nicely in both competitions in terms of our overall goals and that's down to all the hard work that has gone in from the players and management.
In terms of my own role, it's all about skills work. With the injured players in particular, I work with the medical and S&C teams in determining what we can do with the player.
For example, after Denis Buckley had his ankle injury and subsequent operation, I worked with him on his upper body skills until his lower limbs could be used. It's a good time to catch up on decision making and skills development for injured players so that when they are ready to return to match action, their skill level has not dropped off.
As well as running a skills component in all our training sessions, I'll spend a lot of the week working with players in small groups or in a one-on-one capacity. I've found that more and more players are coming to me now after training looking to do 'extras'.
For example, Tuesday was a down day for the players but I was in at 8am to meet a lot of them who had asked for some extra work.
We would be focusing on anything from handling, clean out skills, tackling, work on the breakdown. It all depends on the player and their need at the time or an area that the coaches have identified.
Every player has to produce a 'skills plan' each week. They send it in to Pat on a Sunday and we all look at it as coaches. Instead of them just saying 'oh I need to work on my passing', the player is required to give exact detail on what they plan to do that week to improve their passing.
Players have to specify how much time will they spend with me or how many passes will they practise off each hand. It's that exact. I think it's a great initiative. Player awareness and ownership is a big part of what we're about and it's really pleasing to see the guys driving it themselves.
Just watching the boys perform and execute what we train during the week gives me a real buzz. To play even a small part in their development is extremely satisfying as a coach. We have so many young players in this squad and these guys turn up wide-eyed and ready to learn.
What's exciting though, is that the senior guys have the same mentality. One day I could be working with Nathan White or John Muldoon, who has over 260 caps and is still so willing to take on something new and have a go at it.
The next day I could have James Connolly or Finlay Bealham, and there is the same desire and work ethic there.
It's my third season here at Connacht. I've worked all over the world but I'm loving life in Galway and Ireland and my wife and I have made some wonderful Irish friends.
What I particularly love about Connacht is the hunger from the players. They really want to do well for the team and the province. They'll listen to everything and take on instruction while also offering opinion.
We have a culture and environment where both players and coaches can be challenged and it's all focused around learning.
My own catchphrase with the squad is that 'the edge is in the detail' and I believe we are now starting to get that detail more consistently. I think that has shown in a lot of our games this year.
The Scarlets game last week was so disappointing because we did so many things well but ultimately came up short because of the things we didn't do well. We know we should have won that game and that is why there was a lot of frustration.
But we don't have time to dwell too much and we have to channel that frustration into the Challenge Cup game this weekend. We have a big test ahead of us going to face Brive in France. They've been going really well in the Top 14 and like us, have only lost one game at home all season.
But we have a lot of belief in our ability and we know that a win would set us up nicely for the Round 6 clash against Enisei next week.