'When we are on our game, very few teams can beat us'
Former AIL star Craig Ronaldson has carved himself major leadership role in the Connacht midfield
Craig Ronaldson picked up a concussion last weekend in Connacht's defeat to Leinster, and injury setbacks have robbed him of plenty in his career at the Sportsground but he remains the heartbeat of the team when fit.
The 26-year-old Kildare man missed out on the Pro12 final victory over the same opposition last season, but his 17 appearances and 89 league points meant his contribution was invaluable to the Connacht cause in 2015-16.
The former Kilkenny College student suffered an ankle injury away to Edinburgh in March and that ended his season. And then when he began his comeback in pre-season this term, he damaged his quad and that meant he had to wait until Connacht's home fixture against Ulster to get back into action.
Despite seven months on the side-lines, Ronaldson played 80 minutes in his first game back and was, once again, the fulcrum of the Connacht midfield.
"I had an ankle injury at the end of last season and I was just getting over that when I tore my quad and that kept me out for the start of this season," says Ronaldson.
"I had a few setbacks with that when I was coming back. It was a tricky one because I had a similar one in the past. But the medical guys did a good job with me, and the S&C guys too, and I was back fit and good to go. I didn't really have much of a pre-season at all.
"I had done about three or four weeks when I got my second injury, the quad injury. It was a training ground injury that I got just before the pre-season game in France and I didn't get to travel because of that.
"I was running, and sidestepping when I felt a strain. I was getting back into it and it popped on me when I was getting up to full sprints. It was a frustrating couple of months there. I was just trying to get over it and I did eventually.
"Against Ulster, I remember looking up at the clock at one stage and thinking there was about 30 minutes gone, but there was just ten minutes gone in the game.
"But it was good to be back, I was happy to get through it even though the body was sorer than usual on the Saturday. But it was the best way to find your feet and get used to the speed of the game and the contact."
Ronaldson is now four seasons in Galway, after he moved on from Lansdowne RFC where he had just won the Division 1A player of the season award.
The former out-half, who can still slot in at No 10, is now far more comfortable in the inside-centre position. And when he had to leave the field early against Leinster, his replacement showed just how much depth is in the Connacht squad presently.
Bundee Aki entered the fray in the 19th minute, and along with Peter Robb and Eoin Griffin, Connacht are brimming with talent in midfield even after the exit of Ireland international Robbie Henshaw last season.
"We have always had a few injury crises in certain positions and we were a bit stuck at the start of the season. But there is definitely big competition obviously with Eoin Griffin coming back, and Peter Robb playing so well and Bundee Aki there too. And there's guys coming through the academy too.
"But it's great we are pushing each other hard and learning from each other. We are seeing that whoever steps in does a job and needs to know their role and hopefully it will be good for the team going forward.
"We all have our different strengths. Whether Pat wants to play some type of game or in certain conditions he has those different options which we offer. We all try and fit into a certain game plan and add our own individual bits and pieces after that."
And with Springbok Marnitz Boschoff now in Galway, Lam has another kicker to choose from.
"Marnitz seems to be a great kicker, and I look forward to him playing and learning a few things off him and him off us, and getting to know him and getting him involved in the squad.
"The better competition we have in all positions the better for us. He should be more involved soon so it should be good for us as a team."
And despite injury halting his progress this season, Ronaldson is determined to build on his 55 appearances and three tries in a Connacht jersey as he hopes to one day join Ireland's elite in the national set-up.
"Winning the league opened up a lot of people's eyes to us. We had belief in ourselves but it confirmed to everyone that when we are on our game very few teams can beat us.
"We are really looking to get out of our pool in the Champions Cup. No Irish team managed that last season and we would be really trying to do that. Then back in the league we want to build the momentum and get a run going. We didn't have the best of starts but in the last few weeks we have started to find ourselves again. There is definitely a good bit of confidence in the squad.
"For me getting the game-time and getting fit and staying active is the personal goal, and then improve my game again. I am playing at 12 and I want to develop my game, I am a playmaker and I want to increase my options there. I want to improve my carrying game and my physicality that I have.
"And then off the back of that, towards the end of the season I want to be involved as much as I can and at the end of the day everyone would love those international honours.
"If I push for that by playing great for Connacht that would be brilliant."