Tuesday 27 September 2016

We're out to win it again, but we all start on zero

Pat Lam

Published 02/09/2016 | 02:30

Pat Lam keeps an eye on his Connacht players during training ahead of their return to Pro12 action. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Pat Lam keeps an eye on his Connacht players during training ahead of their return to Pro12 action. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

It's hard to believe we're back in action again tomorrow for a brand-new season. After nine weeks of pre-season, we're looking forward to getting into the real stuff.

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When the Guinness Pro12 fixtures came out over the summer, we were really excited to see that we'd have Glasgow Warriors here for Round 1.

There is no doubt that going into my fourth season this is the toughest opening fixture we've had. It's going to be an extremely tough challenge against a quality side but what a great opening fixture to focus our minds throughout the pre-season.

Three home games in a row against the same opposition is different but it certainly adds to the occasion and intensity. Glasgow will be coming here fully loaded with their internationals and looking to get their 2016-17 campaign off to a flying start. . . just like us.

There are five points on offer for both teams tomorrow afternoon. That's the outcome but as always, we've been focused on the process and what we do in training in the lead up to the game.

The game is live on Sky Sports and it's looking likely to be another sell-out here at the Sportsground. It's great to be back!

After the incredible celebrations here in Galway with the Pro12 trophy, we all took a few weeks' holidays and most of the squad were back in by the end of June.

For our first meeting back on day one, I placed the trophy up at the front of the room and asked everyone what it meant to them.

We all agreed that it represented all the hard work that went in over the previous year - not just from the players but from everyone in the organisation.

Inspiration

It's fantastic to have the trophy and to be able to bring it out to all the schools and clubs around the community. We know it's served as a huge inspiration to our province.

We've been asked many times about our hopes of winning it again and of course, like all the 12 teams in the competition, that's what we would love to do.

However, we all start on zero points this weekend and while everyone wants to win it, we understand there is a process in getting there.

An added bonus this year was the announcement that the Guinness Pro12 final would be played in Dublin. What a great incentive to be the first Connacht team to play in the Aviva Stadium on May 27, 2017.

But the first thing we've got to do is get to the top six because getting into the Champions Cup is part of our strategic plan: that's non-negotiable. We want to be there every year.

We've been hit with injuries across the squad, particularly at lock, but as per last season it's an opportunity and responsibility for those who take the field to do the job and perform for the team.

Once again, we only worry about what we can control and with the squad stretched we just rely on team work as much as ever.

There has been a great buzz around training in the lead up to this game. Meeting all the season ticket holders and supporters at the launch party here last Friday really heightened that.

We were blessed with the weather as hundreds of supporters came to the Sportsground to wish us well for the season.

I know all the players really enjoyed interacting with the young kids (and a few older fans of course) and the new guys, in particular, got a little taste of the incredible West of Ireland support and goodwill.

I can't stress enough the significance of the whole Connacht community in achieving what we did last season. What came through strongly for us was that the more we invested in our five counties of Mayo, Galway, Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim, the more they invested in us.

It is a given that we will be out and about in our province once again over the course of the 2016-17 season and hopefully, where possible, bring the trophy (or replica) which represents what the West of Ireland achieved in bringing it to Connacht for the first time.

On the back of last season's journey, it's great to see a record number of season ticket holders signing up.

We have no doubt that the special atmosphere that makes the Sportsground will be at its strongest as the other teams will be even hungrier to beat the Pro12 champions in our home fortress.

We really appreciate the continued support from home and abroad and I can guarantee that we have been working extremely hard during the week to try and ensure we can produce a performance that you'll all be proud of.

Go raibh maith agaibh!

Irish Independent

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