Friday 30 September 2016

Excitement and nerves aplenty, but we're ready for the challenge

Tiernan O'Halloran

Published 20/05/2016 | 02:30

Tiernan O’Halloran shows his dexterity during Connacht training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Tiernan O’Halloran shows his dexterity during Connacht training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

I took a stroll down Shop Street earlier in the week when they put the green bunting and the flags everywhere. It filled me with such pride that I am part of this Connacht Rugby squad, and we have arguably the biggest match in our history ahead of us. We haven't left a stone unturned in our preparation and we cannot wait for kick-off.

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There is a good bit of confidence among the squad and everyone is in a good place. There's also that air of nervousness, that we are all excited about the opportunity, but at the same time we know exactly what's at stake and that drives us on further.

It is something that we have never experienced before but everyone is enthusiastic. Normally at this stage of the season we would all be flying off on our holidays, but it's good to be in a different scenario this time around, and instead we're looking forward to a home semi-final.

It's a bit strange having back-to-back games against a team like Glasgow, but the atmosphere is building around the city, the game has been sold out and it's building towards something massive. The fixture reads the same, and we won 14-7 last time out, but this is a much bigger intensity again.

We know ourselves that we didn't have our best game the last day against Glasgow. Even though we went on to grind out the victory there was a lot we weren't happy with, so we will need to be on top of our game to beat them.

Topple

It was a big week in training and we need to put together a big performance to go out there and topple the reigning champions back-to-back - that in itself would be a massive feat.

We are not the type of squad to go in to a Pro12 semi-final with a cocky mindset and I think it's good to have a bit of that fear factor. We are going to go in there with confidence at the same time having worked on things from the last game. We have the self-belief that we are good enough to beat Glasgow again and there is no inferiority complex.

Considering what we have done so far this year, and the buzz around the place, it would be very disappointing to lose at home, and not just because of the significance of it being a Pro12 semi-final but we always talk about fortress Sportsground, and we know all about our proud record at home. We have only lost one game here all season, and that came late in the game against Ulster - we don't want a repeat of that.

It's great to have a home semi-final and that advantage, but we are under no illusions that Glasgow are going to be hurting from that game a couple of weeks ago. They will come hard at us, and with Dan McFarland coming back again he certainly doesn't want a repeat. We all know him well, and he would have been annoyed to have lost at the Sportsground of all places.

In the last game the rain fell, and it was a bit of an old-fashioned joust at the Sportsground, but we don't want to rely on the wind and rain anymore. And throughout this season we have favoured the dry conditions where we can throw the ball around and express ourselves.

And Glasgow are known for doing the same. So it's up to the weather as well, whether the two teams can enjoy themselves in attack, or whether it will be similar to the last game where it was a big defensive push from both sides. It was really tough playing in those conditions the last day - I was chatting to Matt Healy after the game, and we agreed, if you're a back-three player in those conditions, all you can do is get your position right and try and cover the backfield as much as possible, because other than that it's very hard to get a lot of attacking opportunities.

It's completely different to when it's dry and the ball gets spread that bit more. The players on the wing can run lines and make breaks then, but when you don't have much ball, you have to make sure you don't overplay it when you do get your chances.

But it was another learning for me, as I continue to grow as a player, you just have to stay patient and let the game come. It was great to get a try in the second half to top it off and thankfully that was enough to get us the win. It proves that in those types of games you just have to stick with it and eventually your chance will come.

Either way, I'm really looking forward to this game now and hoping to put in a big performance along with the rest of the lads.

We are determined to give it everything and hopefully that will be enough to get us over the line and into our first ever final as a club. That would be amazing for the province.

We went out for breakfast and lunch together a few of the days during the week, and there were so many people being supportive and really getting behind us and getting behind the whole team. It's great to see how our results are putting smiles on the faces of the people in our community.

Everyone is looking forward to this and it's such a massive game for the province as a whole. As the week went on it just built and built and come tomorrow I'm sure the atmosphere will be incredible and something we haven't experienced before. It's a very exciting time for everyone involved in Connacht Rugby.

Irish Independent

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