Jackman full of praise for Healy and Connacht after bittersweet win
Published 11/04/2016 | 02:30
This was a weekend where Bernard Jackman rolled out the welcome mat for his former province and delivered everything but the desired result for the visiting Irish fans.
The Carlow native enjoyed two spells at the Sportsground during his playing career. And he went as far as apologising to the devastated green-clad supporters he bumped into around the Stade des Alpes in the aftermath of a dramatic quarter-final win that hands him a realistic shot at a first trophy as head coach of Grenoble.
The former Irish hooker was magnanimous in victory and said he derived little pleasure from the result, despite its significance to his team.
He was disappointed with elements of the home side's performance, but praised the character they showed to haul in 16 and 13-point deficits before Jonathan Wisniewski finally delivered the killer blow in the thrilling final minutes.
Yet he reserved his highest compliments for his old team and his former charge Matt Healy in particular.
"I'd rather they were on the other side of the draw and both of us could get to the final," he said.
"I admire good rugby, so when I see Connacht playing - and I know they don't have the resources that the others have - but the young players there...
"Matt Healy played for me in DCU - he was scoring three or four tries a game. It was Wednesday rugby; lads he was playing against were probably hungover and he was electric.
"He was a guy who was lost, outside the system and now he's a key man, he was brilliant.
"All of our French players were saying: 'Who's that guy, Matt Healy?' He hasn't played much at full-back - we said potentially we could target that. He targeted us.
"What I like is that there are guys like Niyi (Adeolokun) as well, guys who were out of the system and now they're viable candidates at some stage to become Ireland players. And Connacht themselves are viable candidates for a trophy. The Challenge Cup is gone for them this year but no-one will want to play against them in the knock-out stages (of the Pro12)."
Yet it is Grenoble who are viable candidates for the Challenge Cup as Jackman faces off against Conor O'Shea and Harlequins at the Stoop in two weeks' time.
For all of his mixed emotions, this was a chance for the coach to show Irish rugby exactly what he is about and he cut an impressive figure off the park as his team showed real desire and no little invention.
"Our team have a licence to off-load and, in the Top 14, that can help us beat teams that are bigger. We're not going to go away from that," he said. "What we need to work out is we analysed Connacht and talked about how we were going to adapt, but in the game we weren't able to.
"That's something we can be really critical about, but we've won four games in a row and it's very difficult to do that in France, to keep that momentum.
"We didn't play well tonight, but we won. Last year, when we didn't play well, we got stuffed because we couldn't hold on in the game, we'd start to feel sorry for ourselves.
"At 19-3 down , we could have done that but it's testament to the fact that we have more experience than Connacht and it helped us to hang in there and the crowd also helped us massively.
"It's difficult for Connacht to handle a young team like us, coming at them in waves near the end and they've played so much in the game. We're lucky to win, but we're happy to win.
"We want to create our own legacy and push this club up as high as we can, and there's nothing like a Cup run to galvanise the support."