Sunday 25 September 2016

Wild West in past with focus on long term

Published 29/03/2016 | 02:30

Connacht’s Matt Healy, left, and Tiernan O’Halloran celebrate after a win that cements their place at the top of the Pro12. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht’s Matt Healy, left, and Tiernan O’Halloran celebrate after a win that cements their place at the top of the Pro12. Photo: Sportsfile

It is not the Wild West anymore; instead, Connacht are calmly creating new frontiers with an expansive policy on the pitch and an expansionist strategy off it.

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Pat Lam may have laid the platform for the eloquent expressionism of this side but sustainability is the key to ensuring this season is not a one-hit wonder.

And so, as one recalls his put-upon predecessors - Eric Elwood, Michael Bradley and the indefatigable CEO Gerry Kelly - who ploughed lone furrows, laying foundations during unpopular and unprofitable times, Connacht demand that success continues far beyond the reign of the current coach, too.

"In my first year, when we beat Toulouse, that gave me and the group the idea and the clarity of what we can do as team," recalls Lam, whose side peer imperiously upon their shocked and awed opposition from atop the Guinness Pro12 summit.

"On the back of that every year it's not been a one-off, this is something that we've been building. While everyone's looked at results we've just looked at performances, 'okay, what did we do well? What did we do well?', it's just been that same process. It's just continued to grow.

"One thing I want to make really clear, a lot of what we do, I don't want Connacht Rugby reliant on any one person, including myself.

"We try and create structures and systems, Willie Ruane (CEO), myself, Tim Allnutt (manager) and all the staff, we're just putting stuff in so that if I leave someone else comes in and takes the reins.

"If Willie leaves, if a player leaves, it's not about the individual, it's about making this sustainable. It's about working with Eric (Elwood) in the club and community game, Nigel (Carolan) in the academy.

"There's a real alignment in the club because it's our job out here in the west to bring the game through, to make this team stronger and ultimately for Ireland to make genuine players coming through as a conveyor belt to help out the national team."

The suits are doing their job off the pitch and on it the tracksuits are doing it too. Expectation levels are rising all the time; there is much talk of a Leicester comparison but arguably a team like Spurs are more accurate as a yardstick.

Demanding

Like the Londoners, Connacht's administrative, coaching and playing staff are demanding a certain level of performance every week and are well-placed to maintain a more sustainable drive for success than ever before.

To them, it is merely a matter of preparing sufficiently well so that they can take care of business, rather than wishing upon a wing and a prayer as their predecessors so miraculously, albeit only occasionally, managed to do.

"Yeah, it's huge," says Denis Buckley, one of the form loose-heads in the country yet still over-looked by Ireland.

"But it just goes back to the hard work we've put in starting in pre-season. We just did our job and we performed to a level we know we can perform and thankfully we got the win.

"Now it's time to look forward to next week and another huge game. Look, in the changing room everyone's delighted but I think the point we're trying to get across to each other and probably to the outside as well is that it's a win and it's a great win but nothing is done yet. And now it's time to start looking forward to Ulster and hopefully another great win there."

They demand of themselves arguably more than even their supporters, whose angst at Connacht's ambitious exit strategies, and a couple of error-strewn attacking line-outs, betrayed a nervousness which harked back to former times.

"It's a derby game and it's quite tense out there as you could see and there were one or two mistakes and we probably left one or two things out there.

"We set a goal at the start of the week that we wanted to go out there and score four tries and get five points.

"We didn't do that. Maybe the weather was a factor but we have done it before in the rain.

"The way the outside is looking at it was 'oh they went on a run of victories but it was during the Six Nations, they were missing some players'.

"This was the first game after the Six Nations and Leinster have probably the strongest squad in the Pro12, had all their internationals back bar Sexton.

"So it was a litmus test for us, that we weren't just winning when teams were missing their players.

"It was one versus two. We wanted to go out and prove a point and I'm glad that we did."

Irish Independent

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