Eoin McKeon - Local lad fighting fit and eager to take on all comers
Back-row determined to help team through injury crisis as he reaches century of caps
Despite a barrage of injuries and illness hitting the Connacht squad, a number of players continue to clock up the game-time and this week Eoin McKeon looks set to win his 100th cap for his native province.
The 25-year-old Galwegian has spent eight seasons as part of the senior ranks in the Sportsground, and after winning his first piece of professional silverware when they claimed the Pro12 title last season, he will look to help Connacht get this season back on track in Swansea this weekend.
The versatile back-row has played 14 times for Connacht in 2016-17, and his solitary try came in their 32-11 defeat against Ospreys in Round 2 of the Pro12 at the Sportsground.
After being hammered 41-5 by 2015 champions Glasgow Warriors in the opening round, the hosts came out with renewed vigour on September 10 in Galway. But despite dominating the game for large parts, Ospreys pulled away in the end.
"Ospreys are an in-form team at the moment. We are all aware of how good they are going forward," says McKeon.
"I remember that last game, it was only the last ten or 15 minutes when they ran in two off-the-cuff tries and I remember thinking: 'Jesus how did that happen?' We were in control of the game and then they ended up putting a score on us.
"They have massive guys across their whole team; generally we try and negate their breakdown by focusing on our fundamentals. That is what we will focus on this week, getting that ruck-ball right so we can get quick ball for the backline."
McKeon suffered two big injuries last season: a Grade 3 ligament tear in his elbow, and a hip-pointer problem kept him out of action for an extended period.
This season he hasn't been affected to the same extent, but illness prevented him from making the match-day 23 for Connacht's crunch inter-provincial derby against Munster last weekend.
"It was just a bug really, a 24-hour one. I was getting sick a bit and couldn't really eat for the whole day. Towards the 20-hour mark I was looking okay but I dropped a bit of weight," he explains.
"I felt okay coming back in. I was sick on Wednesday night, I was out of action on Thursday but came in Friday feeling alright. But the lads said to me I looked a bit shook.
"I had lost about two kilos in a day - you don't think it's much but when it comes to performing you need as much energy as you can get. It was probably the right call not to play in that match."
Connacht lost 16-9 at a wet and windy Sportsground, and despite salvaging a losing bonus point, a second inter-provincial derby defeat in as many games was tough to take.
But the players are determined to get back on track, and they see execution as the only obstacle preventing them from getting back to winning ways.
"With the outcome against Munster you are obviously going to be disappointed but within our circle we are more disappointed because we feel we haven't hit that level of performance that we know we can," says McKeon.
"Lads are going to be frustrated with the loss but it makes it more disappointing when you are not reaching those levels.
"Hopefully we will bounce back this time around with a win over in Ospreys, and that is all we are focused on now.
"Confidence has never been down; we have just been a bit unlucky, we know we can have a good week training and that brings a lot of confidence and then we just go into a game and don't execute.
"We still know the way we can play. We have played like that in snippets this year but we need to get the consistency going."
With 25 players noted as being unavailable prior to the Munster game last weekend, the medical staff are working hard to ensure Connacht can give themselves a chance this month.
January and 2017 promises so much for the province, but if they cannot get the key injured players integrated back in, it will make things so much harder in the league and Europe - where the Round 6 tie in Toulouse looks pivotal.
"Across the board there are a lot of big characters and names missing. But last season one of the things that worked for us was our strength in depth," says McKeon.
"Bundee Aki is out but Peter Robb is still there and we have the likes of Eoin Griffin hopefully coming back soon enough to fill the gap. And that shows the strength of any team when a big name like Bundee goes down, there is someone in there to fill his shoes. I have full confidence that the guys can step up for us.
"Europe is massive for us. And getting the wins in the Champions Cup, regardless of who it is against, is always going to be a highlight. The fact that we qualified for it by ourselves, and that Wasps are favourites in the competition, it just shows we belong here.
"There is a little bit of extra media attention and people talking about it when it comes to the European weeks. You would be surprised the amount of people looking for tickets for those games.
"But that's part and parcel of it, it's the bigger competition and it adds to the excitement. It is good to be able to perform and play on the big stage like that.
"It is going to be an important game against Toulouse. We have to try and get a good result against Zebre before we think about that.
"But it goes without saying that a lot will come down to that game. But for now it's all about Ospreys this week and we will worry about Toulouse later."