Bealham: 'It's the best pre-season that I have been involved in'
Bane is the new influence in Finlay Bealham's life, and not to be mistaken for the Batman super villain, the Dogue de Bordeaux puppy is a much more peaceful and a grounding presence.
It was a busy summer for the Ireland international and Connacht tighthead prop, and Bealham has come back with a refreshed outlook, something which has been echoed throughout the corridors at the Sportsground.
The 26-year-old Canberra native took a trip back to Australia before he returned and focused all of his attentions on the big move to Knocknacarra. He lives outside the city now, and his serene surroundings provide the perfect backdrop for a new beginning.
"I didn't get up to too much during the summer. But I was moving house and then I went home for two weeks to visit the family in the Gold Coast. I caught up with Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion and Tadhg Furlong too," says Bealham.
"I bought a dog as well so I suppose I have been busy. He will be a pretty big boy when he is fully grown. He is already a big now and he's only a puppy.
"I was living in an apartment, but I moved out to Knocknacarra. It's a bit further out and bit quieter so I am loving it out there."
Bealham has played seven times for Ireland but the last cap there came against Japan on June 17 last year. For Connacht, he continues to be a rock in the No 3 jersey, but like many of his team-mates, he suffered when the results didn't go so well last season.
It meant Bealham missed out on a Grand Slam with Ireland, and a successful tour Down Under. But in a World Cup year his sole focus is placed on Connacht green for now.
"There is lots of competition there for the tighthead jersey. Conor Carey and Dominic Robertson-McCoy have really stepped up when they got the chance. There has been lots of heat on there," he says.
"But it's great, it makes the individual better. You know there are good guys coming through that can take over and certainly do a job. I just concentrate on my stuff and don't think about anyone else.
"I need to get my own things right and then I will get my performance levels up."
It's now 106 appearances for Connacht since he made the breakthrough with six games as a replacement in 2013-'14. His progression was fast, and Bealham's arrival on the scene coincided with Pat Lam's tenure, which ultimately resulted in a coveted PRO12 title success in May 2016.
Bealham was a major contributor that season but knows the team have failed to hit those high notes ever since. They couldn't land a spot in the Champions Cup for 2017-'18 and likewise for this term.
It's been a tough few years for Connacht Rugby, since that wonderful day in Murrayfield, when Leinster were put to the sword with an emphatic 20-10 victory in the PRO12 Grand Final.
But since Kieran Keane departed at the end of last season things have gradually picked up pace again.
Andy Friend came in, under the radar, but after three wins in pre-season he looks an astute addition as head coach.
"I hadn't met Friendy until he came. He was actually from Canberra where I'm from and went to one of the rival schools there. But that was obviously a few years before me. His son knows my sister so it is a pretty small world," adds Bealham.
Connacht were 33-24 victors at Pompadour against Brive on August 11, and they followed that up with a thumping 43-10 win over Wasps at Dubarry Park. Then last weekend Lam's Bristol were bettered in a 14-12 win at Ashton Gate.
Connacht have been on a roll in pre-season and although the competitive fixtures don't begin until this weekend against Glasgow Warriors, all of the murmurings suggest a really together squad of players.
"We got back into it towards the end of June, we came in, did a bit of fitness testing and got straight back into it. It's been a tough pre-season but we have done a few different things," says Bealham.
"We went to Killary adventure centre for an obstacle course, which was a good bit of craic. The boys seemed to love it. While we have been doing fun stuff like that we have been working hard with the strength and conditioning and rugby coaches.
"It's been a bit more rugby-focused this year as opposed to running shuttles and sprints. It's been more rugby related so it's more enjoyable. Maybe that's why we have had a bit more success in our pre-season games.
"Week one in pre-season has normally been lots of conditioning and you don't really touch a rugby ball. But we have been playing with rugby balls and doing lots of skills work.
"We have worked on little aspects of the game. We have worked on our defence, and carrying, tackling, clean-outs. Every little skill has been looked at. The lads are feeling very skilful.
"It's been the best pre-season I have been involved in. It's been my first full pre-season for a few years. I have really enjoyed getting in a bit earlier, and trying to prove myself.
"Everyone has been working really hard and the results have been really good so far. It's a really positive camp. We will be looking to take that form into the start of the season."
And the new recruits have added their own impetus too, while Jarrad Butler is a popular choice as the man to succeed the legendary John Muldoon as captain.
"I played against JB at schools level rugby. I am delighted he got announced as captain. He is a really inspiring guy.
"Having him in your team he is always someone you want to perform for," says Bealham.
"He is going to be a great captain this year. I know he has got big boots to fill with John Muldoon leaving but I have all my faith in him.
"I know he is going to do an outstanding job."
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