Connacht optimistic as they aim for new frontiers
Seldom has there been as much optimism in Connacht embarking on a new season.
A squad which took some notable big scalps last year, including Toulouse in their own backyard in the Heineken Cup, is about to be augmented by some wonderful southern hemisphere signings as Pat Lam begins his second campaign at the helm.
And with Connacht securing the services of Irish internationals Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Marmion, despite keen interest from the other provinces, Lam will head into the season with a strong squad.
The arrival this week of All Black legend Mils Muliaina and with centre Bundee Aki and hooker Tom McCartney both coming to the Sportsground in a couple of months, gives Connacht a platform to take on the best.
Muliaina has penned a one-year deal which also includes a mentoring role, while Aki and McCartney have signed three-year contracts as Connacht bid to get back to the premier competition in Europe. Their participation in the past three years in the Heineken Cup was down to Leinster's success in Europe but with rule changes Connacht can now realistically look at making it on their own steam in the Guinness Pro12.
The on-field developments have been augmented by considerable work off the pitch, with further improvements being carried out at the Sportsground, but undoubtedly the biggest development has been the appointment of Ballina native Willie Ruane as CEO.
The former Connacht full-back knows every strand of the game, from coaching his own children in mini-rugby through to the value of the club game, the flagship professional team and all the other sectors.
"We want world-class systems and structures and they need to be world-class because we are competing against teams that in themselves have world-class systems and structures. That's not going to happen overnight, that's something we have to work on, but that's the ambition.
"If we do that we will achieve success that the players are yearning for, that the supporters are yearning for and that the whole of Connacht is yearning for," said Ruane.