Player Diary: Connacht has given me so much. . . it's about what you can give back
Published 27/05/2016 | 02:30
I'm in a very privileged position - Connacht captain ahead of the biggest game in the province's history - but it's not a time to sit back and admire where we are. There's a game to win tomorrow in Edinburgh.
On paper the odds are stacked against us, but if we perform like we have all season and enjoy the occasion we can beat Leinster and lift the Pro12 trophy.
Enjoying it doesn't mean going into the game and taking your foot off the pedal. It's about appreciating the opportunity you have been given and playing with freedom - don't let it weigh you down.
It was difficult seeing Dan McFarland last weekend; it was fantastic to beat Glasgow, but you are looking at Dan with a bit of remorse for him. You are just thinking about all he has put in over the years with Connacht.
Then you have the likes of Eric Elwood, Michael Swift, Gavin Duffy, Johnny O'Connor, Keith Matthews, Conor O'Loughlin. . . lots of players have put so much into the jersey and into coaching here.
You are disappointed for those lads that they can't be involved directly, but in their own ways, through messages of goodwill and everything, they are all part of it.
It's great to see they are still looking out for Connacht Rugby, they still feel for the team and are proud of where it has got to. That says an awful lot about the impact the province had on people.
This week it really hit home for me. Connacht Rugby has given me so much but it's not about what you are taking out of it, it's what you can give back to the jersey. It would be phenomenal to get your hands on a cup at the end of everything.
On Monday, Pat Lam sent out the schedule for the week and the subject heading was 'Final'. Every now and again little things like that make you pinch yourself and think 'is this really happening?'.
We have one weekend left, we are still in training hard and talking about goals, and it hit home on Monday when we were doing that.
It's great for everybody and there's a great buzz around the place. There were a lot of sore and tight bodies but in a final week nobody wants to miss out on the action. This is so new to us, but we are loving every minute of it.
When you get to the business end of competitions, the semi-finals and finals, you know you are going to be up against the big teams. Glasgow have been one of those big teams in the last two or three seasons.
They were defending champions, we had to play them in the last game of the regular season, and it was going to be tough. Then we had them again in the semi-final and now Leinster, it's not easy.
Leinster are three-time European Cup champions and four-time Pro12 winners. They have lost a few finals too, and that just shows you that they have been at the top end for the last six or seven years and deservedly so.
They have some talented players, plenty of household names. We all love watching Ireland play, and watching all of those players play.
But the big difference this year, and the big thing that strikes you when watch them, is how good their defence is. They have the best defence out there in the league - defence coach Kurt McQuilkin has done a great job with them.
But also we are going out against a team that we have done well against over the last few years. That will give us confidence, we are in a neutral venue and up against players we know quite well - it is probably not as daunting as it could be.
It promises to be a great game, but definitely Leinster are favourites. We will be going there quietly confident that we have a good chance, but we know we have to get our stuff right. On their day Leinster are one of the best teams in Europe so we certainly have to play well or we won't stand a chance.
People might point to our inexperience when it comes to winning trophies but this Connacht squad has lots of players who have played in winning teams before and guys who have been involved in big finals.
We have four of the lads who played for Ireland against England in Twickenham this season. That will stand to them well.
We have lots of lads who have played in big games.
Tom McCartney has played in huge games back home in New Zealand. Bundee Aki has been involved in a Super Rugby-winning team with the Chiefs. There's lots of lads involved who have won trophies, and not just in rugby.
It's just a case of trying to keep it simple, and do everything the same as we normally do. We understand that by tomorrow, the crowd and the atmosphere and everything, the fact that we are in a final, that will drive us on a bit.
The key thing is you don't play the game Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. You wait until Saturday, let the week look after itself and do what you normally do. And then enjoy it when it comes.
That's the key thing, that's what we were trying to focus on this week. We can't play the game early in the week. We enjoyed the build-up, and we didn't get bogged down. You need to focus on producing it when it matters on the day.