Friday 23 June 2017

Good to be back on our own patch after big win

Connacht players celebrate their victory over the Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park last weekend Picture: Gareth Everett/SPORTSFILE
Connacht players celebrate their victory over the Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park last weekend Picture: Gareth Everett/SPORTSFILE

Martin Joyce

It felt like a long time since we left Cardiff Arms Park with the satisfying feeling of a win, so Sunday was a bit special. During the break we spoke about how important this block of games was to our season, so to start it off with a win away from home was massive.

The atmosphere in the camp in the build-up to the game was really positive and there was a real sense of hunger and determination from the players to get back out there after the break and the Champions Cup disappointment.

While we got off to a slow start on Sunday, I felt that once we got that first score before the break, it really changed things. The boys knew what they had to do in the second half, and from my position on the sidelines there were a lot of positives.

The defence was incredible and we started to spark in attack. We also showed that we learnt a lot from the Toulouse game and how to close it out when we're in that position.

On game day, I am linked up by radio to the coaches and relay messages to the players on the pitch and the replacements running on. The message was clear when it was level at 13-13 - get in position for the drop-goal.

Fair play to the lads, we went for it and when it didn't come off the first time, we went for it again. We still had to close out the game and I thought it was a really professional and clinical finish.

The attitude of the players before the game was particularly impressive.

Non-existent

It was an early kick-off at 1.00 and as we were playing in Cardiff the day after the Wales v England game, accommodation in the capital was non-existent, so we stayed in Bristol, about an hour's drive away.

That meant the team bus leaving the hotel at 10.30, which is unusual on match day. But there were no complaints. As we see it, it's all part of the challenge and the boys just get on with it.

There was a lot of talk from outside about the challenge of playing on a 4G pitch. It's obviously a different surface to what we're used to but it wasn't something we spoke about at all in the lead-up to the game.

I had no players coming to me worrying about boots or studs and again, they just got on with the job at hand.

My own journey for last Sunday's game started on Friday when I collected the team bags at the Sportsground and drove on to Rosslare for the ferry to Fishguard in south-west Wales.

I stayed there Friday night and then drove the two and half hours on to Bristol the next day to find the hotel. The main job that day is to ensure the team's arrival is as smooth as possible.

Sometimes they will have been on a long bus journey from the airport so they'll be hungry on arrival. Actually they're hungry most of the time!

The three main things I'm asked about is the whereabouts of their bags, the hotel Wi-Fi code and the time for dinner.

It was great to be able to watch the Six Nations games on Saturday as well and kill some time during the day in between meals and the captain's run.

With the Connacht boys involved in Ireland, it really adds a great buzz to watching the matches. I've been with Connacht for seven years now and there may have been international games in the past with no Connacht involvement whatsoever but that's changing big time now and it's great.

Another big change I've noticed is the number of supporters travelling to away games. There was once a time when a lone green flag at an away game would put a smile on your face but now there's big groups of supporters making the effort to come and support us.

To come to Cardiff on a Six Nations weekend and in freezing conditions is really impressive and it's hugely appreciated by the team and everyone at Connacht Rugby.

The fact that this game with Dragons is nearing a sell-out is a sign of where we have got to.

Every home game is a big occasion now and the atmosphere is electric week in week out. We can't wait to be back at home again.

Irish Independent

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