Tuesday 26 September 2017

Munster far from a nothing game for us with local pride on the line

Player Diary: Tiernan O'Halloran

John Muldoon presents a commemorative jersey to the departing Ronan Loughney on behalf of Connacht Rugby after the Scarlets defeat. Photo: Sportsfile
John Muldoon presents a commemorative jersey to the departing Ronan Loughney on behalf of Connacht Rugby after the Scarlets defeat. Photo: Sportsfile

Tiernan O'Halloran

It was a disappointing outing for us at the Sportsground last weekend, and we were frustrated at the performance we put on against Scarlets, especially for the occasion that it was and the massive turnout we had as usual.

The Connacht Rugby Annual Awards Ball followed on Sunday night, and although there was a sombre feeling around the place after one of our worst performances in a few seasons, it was nice to see family and friends all together again.

It was a massive surprise to win two awards on the night. And it was great to have my parents, Aidan and Maire, there for the occasion. They have been going to the awards for a good few years now so it was a proud moment for them too.

It was my first award in a few years. I won young player of the year a few years ago but I don't qualify for that anymore. It was great to win back of the year. With the likes of Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty nominated, it felt like a great achievement.

But to get to recognised as Players' Player of the Year by my peers was pretty special. I'm massively honoured and proud to win that award.

The season isn't over yet and it's just an awards ceremony but it was still a really nice moment for myself and my family. I still have a number of goals I want to hit this season but it's great and I'm proud of it.

Changes

As I said, we were let down by the Scarlets game. There were a lot of changes in personnel from the Leinster game. The build-up during the week was exciting because of the new combinations that were there.

Guys were looking to put in a big performance for what was going to be a bit of an occasion as our last home league game and with a presentation to the guys leaving at the end of the season.

Ronan Loughney is obviously a big part of the squad, and with Pat Lam and Conor McPhillips leaving as well, it was an emotional occasion. Maybe at the end of the day we probably built it up too much, lost focus in the game and you could see that in the first half.

We were second to everything in the whole first half. We were beaten up physically and lost the breakdown. We had an incredibly poor start to the game.

It's disappointing, we have set some really high standards in the last few seasons. But, as Pat mentioned at the review on Monday, it was probably one of our worst displays since he came here. Individually, a lot of us need to look at ourselves and how we prepared for the game. Overall, it was a very disappointing finish to what might be the last home game of our season.

That was meant to be a time where we were going to celebrate the guys' time here. It would have been different if we had performed on the day, and still lost. There was massive disappointment in the changing room because of how bad our actual performance was. It was tough for everyone involved.

There was a few speeches in the dressing room at the end. It was a tough place to be in but you have to recognise the guys that are leaving who have put everything they have in to the place. Especially someone like Loughs who has given 12 years to his home province. You have to recognise and admire that, even though it was a tough time to do it after a defeat like that. We had wanted to show them our thanks through a performance.

It's Munster up next this weekend and they are really flying it at the moment. They are coming off the back of a tough defeat to Saracens but that was just one game, and we all know how good Saracens are. It was tough on them, but we know they have already got their home semi-final booked.

It's hard to know what their squad will look like against us this weekend. But we know that no matter what, Thomond Park is a fortress for them. The confidence we can take is that we went down there last year and won, and created a bit of history in the process. That was pretty special and something that we can take confidence from as well. We are all looking forward to making it right after last weekend, because that performance was not us and not acceptable.

We are almost guaranteed eighth place now in the Pro12 while Munster are guaranteed their home semi-final place.

A lot of people see it as a nothing game for both teams but at the end of the day, it's a derby game and there is always a bite to them no matter where you are on the table.

As well as that there are a lot of people that need to stand up and put things right after last weekend. We want to have momentum going into the play-off game so in that sense, we feel there is a lot to play for. It's always a big occasion when you play in Thomond Park in front of a big Munster crowd, and it's a high stakes game for a lot of us.

We need to get things right before we go into these play-offs otherwise it won't go too well for us. We are definitely aiming to put in a big performance on Saturday. It's a strange weekend in the Pro12 with most of the outcomes already known but it's great that they ensure there are derby games in the last round.

For us last year, in the final regular-season game against Glasgow there were so many different permutations with regards to who was going to finish where in the top four.

Obviously this year it is a bit different but there is nothing you can do about that. That's just the way it happened. It's not a case where anyone is going to be approaching a fixture with one eye elsewhere.

It's still all guns blazing for us anyway. We need to get things right, and we have a lot to work on ahead of the play-offs in two weeks' time.

Irish Independent

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