Tuesday 26 September 2017

Johnny O'Connor: Beating Blues can really bring lads together

Confidence soaring after derby victory - but now we face league's best side

Connacht players at training
Connacht players at training
Denis Buckley in training

Johnny O'Connor

Last week I mentioned the importance of being able to treat derby wins like any other game, but after last Friday I think I might have to revisit that opinion. What a boost that was to everyone!

As a Connacht supporter and former player that was a really satisfying win. It wasn't the fact that it was our great rivals Leinster, but more the way this team battled toe-to-toe and ground down a strong Leinster side - they are the champions, remember. It's amazing what you can do when you have some belief, a strong set-piece and some really talented players.

The most pleasing thing is that this team has the ability to work their way out of bad situations. When they make a mistake or find themselves in a situation where their opponents are threatening, they seem to be able to find a solution.

Pressure

The scrum is rock-solid, so they can turn the ball over and give themselves good platforms to work off, and the team is making better decisions under pressure.

Once again the pack was fantastic; the front-row did very well again. The first couple of scrums didn't go their way, but they must be applauded for turning it around and making John Lacey realise they were the dominant force. They out-scrummaged Leinster's all-Irish international front-row.

The defence was much improved last weekend and Robbie Henshaw looks solid in his duties in the No 13 shirt, but I wonder if he is more suited to the full-back role? There is no doubting his abilities, and I do I think his talent will allow him succeed in the 13 shirt, but it will be interesting to see where he plays as the year goes on.

There were heroes all over the field, but again I really enjoyed watching Niyi Adeolokun. He is pretty inexperienced and is learning the pro game on the job, but I love his attitude. He made a big hit on Sean Cronin, which rattled him, but he got straight up to put in another tackle. He is very committed, is lightening fast and I like what I see.

Going to Glasgow tonight will really test Connacht, though. Glasgow are the best team in the league: they are the most physical side and can tear you apart after they beat you up. They are an incredibly hard team to play against, they are very direct, strong and physical. They also play the game at a ferocious pace.

Credit has to go to Pat Lam and his management team. They have done a super job. They have the players physically and mentally prepared, but this is a big, big test tonight. But I don't see why they shouldn't be confident of at least putting up a good performance.

Hopefully tonight we'll see Connacht keep this early-season momentum going. At the moment they have a lot of young players that have incredible self-belief. In previous years, the problem was that we had 15 good players and after that we struggled. But now the academy is producing quality players, and they all want to show their talents. Exciting times indeed.

Doing a quick count on the team that started the last day, I think eight of the 15 have worked their way into the senior side through the academy system. That's an incredible return and it just goes to show the standard of player that Nigel Carolan is driving through.

I must admit that it is really strange for me to be regularly watching Connacht again. I didn't watch all that much rugby last year, apart from the internationals and some of the Heineken Cup stuff.

Enjoyable

After leaving the game it was good to take a step away but it is really enjoyable to be watching Connacht as a supporter once more.

I am getting a kick from watching the game again, but it is tough sitting there watching it all unfold with the knowledge that you can't do anything about it when the game is on the line. But my time is gone and it's these young guys that have driven the change in Connacht.

Tonight they face the best, but I don't see why Connacht should not believe that they can win. I really think they can beat Glasgow away.

We have been close there before plenty of times and this is a talented squad that's well able to play football. They are just waiting on their chance to shine.

Irish Independent

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