Tim Allnutt: It's already been a great season but lots yet to do
Published 05/02/2016 | 02:30
I've been involved with Connacht Rugby as a player and then team manager for over 15 years now, and I have to say that the atmosphere for the match last Saturday was one of the best I've ever experienced.
I was down with the subs for a lot of the first half and then upstairs with the coaches and the noise never let up.
It truly made such a difference when we were down to 14 men and forced to defend our line and prevent Scarlets from getting a losing bonus point. That's when home advantage really counts.
We've never had those numbers through the gates for a non-interpro Pro12 game and that just highlights how much has changed at the Sportsground. It's an unrecognisable place from when I played here, but one thing that has remained constant is the welcome and goodwill from everyone involved on match day.
We get a lot of messages from visiting fans, mascots, parents, even the broadcasters about the hospitality they receive here and that's down to all the great work being done by the staff and volunteers.
People like Collette Fallon and Debbie Joyce who do a fantastic job with the ball boys deserve a lot of praise. It's all those people behind the scenes who make a big difference at Connacht Rugby.
This week, the players get a well-earned few days off after that 16-week run of games. To go that long without a break was unprecedented for any club.
But we knew it was coming and we had put a lot of planning in to ensure we got the most out of the weeks without wearing the players down. Whether that was changing the time or location of training or booking a team lunch somewhere during the week, it's those small changes that can keep everyone focused.
There were also eight games on the road in that block, including a trip to Siberia, so it was always going to be a challenge logistically.
Looking back on it, although the delay in Russia was one of the biggest tests for me as team manager, I would also put it down as one of the highlights of the season.
I never would have dreamt that I'd be bringing a Connacht team to Siberia but it was such an experience spending a week in a place like that, and I believe it made us even closer as a group. I don't think it's a trip we'll ever forget.
To be where we are now, second in the Pro12 table and a place booked in the Challenge Cup quarter-final is fantastic.
But we all know there's a long way to go before we have achieved anything. There have been some great performances but until we reach that goal of Champions Cup qualification, no-one is getting ahead of themselves.
It's been a fairly hectic few months so it's good to have this week in the office and a bit more time to spend on the admin side of things, particularly our recruitment, which is at an important stage at this time of year.
The contracts committee includes myself, Pat and Willie Ruane, our CEO, and we work closely throughout the year on the recruitment and retention programme.
It's a tough part of the job dealing with a wide range of agents and players but we have good systems in place to ensure as smooth a process as possible for everyone involved.
Maintaining good communication and relationships is probably the biggest part of my role. That involves agents and players but also internally with the CEO and the other heads of departments.
I spend a lot of time with Pat and that link with the head coach is very important. It's vital that there is a lot of trust there between us and that he knows he can focus on the team and not have to worry about other external matters.
This will be the first weekend in a while that there'll be no Connacht game and I'm looking forward to spending time with my family in Galway. I'm sure we'll have a look at the Ireland-Wales game on Sunday.
To have five players called up to the squad this year is fantastic and certainly a huge part of our own vision. Four of those five lads came through our academy system, so it's a huge boost for the entire organisation to see them recognised.
I have no doubt they will do the club and their team-mates proud.