Exciting front-row has to make most of his Euro chance
Offaly hooker is back to full fitness and eager to show he has the talent to make first team
Published 13/11/2015 | 02:30
The European Challenge Cup is not top of the agenda in the Sportsground this season, but for the group of young players yet to establish themselves in the Connacht first team it provides a massive opportunity.
Siberia is not the easiest destination to begin their journey, however that won't matter to the academy and fringe players who made the cut for the lengthy trip into freezing conditions.
Shane Delahunt is one such player on the cusp of coach Pat Lam's first-team plans. He may be just 21 and has only one European appearance to date, but this has the potential to be a breakthrough season for the Offaly native.
He made an impact last term but never got a run of games in the starting XV. Yet with a 16-game block and the injury to front-line hooker Tom McCartney, the Buccaneers clubman recognises his chance.
Similarly, an injury to his Kiwi teammate in Round 5 of the Pro12 paved the way for Delahunt to make his second Pro12 start.
For just over an hour of the game things couldn't have gone any better - Connacht were in the ascendency and led 18-11 before he picked up a hip-pointer injury.
As things turned out, it was a memorable victory for the visitors to the Liberty Stadium, their first at the venue. But Delahunt has been out since then, he cannot wait to get another opportunity.
"I didn't even think I would have been on the bench the week before against Zebre because Tom McCartney and Dave Heffernan were really good," he said.
"It was a bit of a surprise to be involved, it was just rotation and luckily I took my chance against Zebre. Tom had a little niggle for the Ospreys week and I started, so I was really delighted.
"I was happy with how the game went as well, having not won over there for so long it was a great result. Unfortunately, I got an injury myself but that's just what happens. I got a shoulder to my hip and it bruised my hip bone so I am coming back now.
"Russia will be a big challenge travelling over there, but it is one you would be looking forward to. A big block of games is a good challenge for us. We have a small squad but we know there is going to be rotations made.
"Everyone is going to get some game time within that 16 weeks. It is something to really look forward to. Hopefully I can get in for a few more games and learn as much as I can off the lads".
So far he has played 11 times for Connacht seniors as he continues to prosper under the tutelage of Nigel Carolan in the academy. From the outskirts of Birr, Delahunt makes the short trek to Athlone for his club rugby.
Buccaneers has a huge role to play in the production of future Connacht stars and this season there is a big Connacht Rugby feel around the place.
Ex-Connacht and Ireland prop Brett Wilkinson is the head coach, while Connacht winger Danie Poolman coaches the backline of the Ulster Bank League Division 1B side. Along with his fellow academy and Buccaneers team-mates, Delahunt can see why it works.
"It is going really good for us, it is a real family atmosphere there this year with Brett Wilkinson and Danie Poolman. It is driven a lot, that brotherhood. It is really good at the moment.
"There are a lot of guys from Connacht here, and it probably makes a difference that we are all playing alongside each other day in, day out and we all know each other's strengths and weaknesses. It makes a good difference when it comes to the weekend and you know who is beside you."
Having swapped over from prop in his earlier playing days, the former Kilkenny College student has had to work on certain skill-sets in the No 2 jersey.
However, he has a number of mentors to learn from in the current Connacht set-up and that has helped his game immensely, particularly for line-outs.
"I used to struggle with my throwing when I was starting off. It was probably my main concern back then, but some days you have good days and some days you have bad days. I just continued to work through it and that is all you can do really.
"I want to try and get up to 90 per cent throwing accuracy consistently. That is a work-on and it will be every week. Club wise, I have been around 90 per cent. I am 100 per cent bar one throw in the Pro12 so I am happy with that so far.
"But I know I need to try and improve the scrummaging aspect too. Basically I want my all-round game to keep getting better. If I can focus on different areas every week, and get a little better in each part of my game from week to week it's great."
McCartney's injury woe may have hurt Connacht more in previous years, but the return of Jason Harris-Wright comes as a timely boost for Pat Lam's side.
After a year on the sidelines the Clontarf clubman could get his chance in Europe too, and Delahunt relishes the opportunity to learn from another seasoned campaigner.
"I am really looking forward to having him back playing with us in the first team. He has been out a long time as well.
"Personally, I am just trying to take it one step at a time now. It's another year's learning from where I was at the start, and I feel more a part of things now."