Ambition and sense of place key to Connacht's progress
CEO launches 'Vision and Strategy' plan to plot province's development over next four years
Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane was joined by Pat Lam, Eric Elwood and Nigel Carolan in Dublin this week for the public launch of the western province's Vision and Strategy for the next four years.
While the professional team are busy preparing for a first ever and highly-anticipated Guinness Pro12 semi-final at the Sportsground tomorrow evening, Ruane and his management team laid out their plans to a room full of media and representatives at the Aviva Stadium - the culmination of the now well-known 'Grassroots to Green Shirts' vision for the club.
"The strategic plan effectively charts the course for Connacht Rugby over the next four years," said Ruane. "It's setting out what it is we're working towards, what we hope to achieve, and how we are going to achieve it.
"We have spent the last 12 months working on the overall vision and purpose of Connacht Rugby. Then we built out from there in terms of our key objectives, the big things we want to achieve and the detail behind those big objectives."
Throughout the detailed plan, which will be shared with the public at a separate launch in Galway in the coming days, there is much reference to the 'Connacht Way'.
"The Connacht Way is really something that defines how we want to go about our business as an organisation and what are the standards we will hold ourselves to in order to try and achieve this vision.
"That was a collective process that involved all the players and staff. Connacht Rugby is a lot broader than just the pro team and it's important that everyone has a shared sense of the Connacht Way.
"We discussed the different things that we felt made Connacht great and that defined us within our DNA, not just now but going right back through our history.
"Ambition is very much a key of the Connacht Way. It's about a burning desire to succeed. It's taken a long time to achieve a certain degree of success - and we believe there's a lot more success that has yet to be achieved - but that ambition has always been there.
"When it comes to belief, we have to be honest that if we didn't have the belief, the resilience and the commitment to Connacht, I'm not quite sure we'd all be still doing it.
"John Muldoon and Eric Elwood are perfect examples of guys who have been striving to succeed for a very long time and that belief has underpinned everything that they've tried to do. We simply need to follow their example into the future.
"Then finally there's the community - that understanding of who you represent and that pride in where you come from. That is something that lies at the heart of Connacht Rugby. We have an opportunity to show off everything that is great about where we come from and we all take that very seriously. "
Grassroots to Green Shirts has often been referred to by Lam and Ruane when talking about the future of the club and they maintain that's it's about much more than just a marketing slogan.
"Connacht Rugby is so much more than just our pro team and that's the great thing about it. The strength and the real competitive advantage of the provincial structure and the structure of Irish Rugby is that we have feeder systems and a grassroots structure that underpins everything we do. More than that, it is the reason we exist.
"So rather than focusing solely on the provincial professional team, we want to make sure we are as equally focused on growing and promoting the game at grassroots level.
"The vision of Grassroots to Green Shirts is about giving our kids the opportunity to realise their rugby dreams, whatever they may be. Our job is to provide a clear pathway that gives them the best chance to do just that and ultimately wearing the green shirt of Connacht and the green shirt of Ireland.
"We have done that to a certain extent but we haven't done in the numbers and with the consistency that we aspire to and it's something we're striving to achieve for our community going forward."
On the back of four sold-out fixtures, questions on the Sportsground as a suitable facility to match the rugby side's on-field success are becoming more and more frequent.
Within the plan, Connacht Rugby cites 'facilities to match our ambition' as one of three main objectives or 'big moves' for the next four years.
"Without a doubt, we want to have facilities that match the ambition of everyone involved in Connacht Rugby," says Ruane.
"That means facilities across the province in our clubs, our centres of excellence, our own performance facilities here within the professional system and then of course a fit-for-purpose stadium.
"We're working extremely hard to ensure that we're in a position to make that a reality but also that we have increased financial capacity to make it happen. One feeds into the other.
"We know that by improving our facilities we'll also boost our own financial capacity. So it's very much key to our strategic plan and something we're working very hard on at the moment. "
With Champions Cup rugby secured for next season and potential for a Pro12 trophy to cap off a phenomenal season, there is plenty to be excited about when it comes to the future.