'If there isn't competition then you cannot improve'
Athlone out-half Jack Carty welcomes extra pressure for places as province start new era under Keane
Andrew Deegan was the talk of the Sportsground last weekend as he got his debut in Connacht's ill-fated clash with Cardiff Blues.
Jack Carty wasn't part of the Connacht squad in Round 4 but he is still set to have his say as the latest competitor aims to take the No 10 jersey.
The 25-year-old Athlone native made his debut for Connacht in 2012-'13 and has seen plenty of out-halves come and go but he remains a cornerstone of the squad.
"Andrew looks pretty sharp. He has good passing and can move the boys around just as well as the other out-halves here. It's just another fella to add to the competition and if there isn't competition you can't improve so it keeps everyone on their toes," says Carty.
"There is always going to be someone to compete with, when Marnitz left in unfortunate circumstances, there was always going to be one slot there, they were going to make it up.
"Myself and Steve Crosbie knew someone was coming in, it was just a matter of when and who it was. It's good to have someone who can add their own views. He has played in a different environment and different teams and structures."
And right now Connacht are in need of a solid out-half to lead them through a tricky start to 2017-'18. It was similar beginning last term and ultimately that season ended up falling flat with an underachieving campaign in the league and in Europe.
But things have changed dramatically behind the scenes in Galway and the new-look strength and conditioning and medical departments could have a profound effect on the outcomes this season.
"I caught Johnny O'Connor at the tail end of his career and played a couple of times with him. I had a fair idea of what was expected from him," says Carty.
"His general knowledge as well as Dave Howard and Barry O'Brien, their understanding and knowledge, and ability to communicate the message and explain to us why we are doing certain things is huge.
"Everyone can see the benefit that we have all individually had and as a team. We have learned a lot of new things especially around recovery. The injury numbers are significantly down on this time last year too. It's just about players having to take care of their bodies.
"And obviously Dave has come from a different background, from the NBA, he worked with fellas like Russell Westbrook who was an MVP last year. If he is good enough for them he's good enough for us.
"It's really interesting listening to him and every time he speaks you are learning something. Same with Johnny coming from Arsenal.
Tapping "It's great, you have different people from different codes and different sports, tapping into everything they have learned throughout their career so far."
But the biggest change of all came in the management team where Pat Lam and Conor McPhillips exited for Bristol in the English Championship, with Kieran Keane and Nigel Carolan coming in at the other end.
Buccaneers clubman Carty spent a lot of his underage career working alongside former Connacht academy manager Carolan, and he echoes the sentiments of his previous team-mates.
"A good few of us came through the academy with Nigel as our head coach the year we won the first U-20 interprovincial. It's good to link up with him again," says Carty. "His technical expertise and his general knowledge of rugby is huge. It's been good to have a fresh new voice. Everyone is different and Nigel has been great."
The playing style is constantly changing in Galway too, and new head coach Keane has adopted a more open-minded approach to his attacking philosophy.
"Everything evolves and it does have similarities with what we have done before. People were always on about our 2-4-2 system. This system has similarities with that but it's just about everyone having a general understanding of what we are trying to do. It's just about streamlining our game-plan at this stage," Carty adds.
"It's all fairly similar for me. It's similar in terms of you have fellas outside feeding stuff into you. That's the same with every team. In that case it's pretty much the same.
"The way we are playing, and who we are playing off, whether nine or ten, can be a bit different. Every team is unique and has their own stamp on how they play.
"It's pretty similar, it's about driving the team around the park and making sure we get into the right positions. I still think there is a lot of improvement for me in that department."
And back home in Athlone Carty's former team-mates have raised their standards too as they returned to the Ulster Bank League Division 1A for the first time in ten years.
Ex-Connacht lock Mike McCarthy has been helping out with the coaching there and Carty says it's great to see Buccaneers back in the big time.
"A good few of my mates are still playing with Buccaneers. Luke, my younger brother who did all of pre-season with us, he is playing with them," says Carty.
"They have a big task on their hands this year. They have recruited quite well, and the players that they have there, they will be competitive it's just a big step up, physicality-wise from 1B.
"You are playing against big packs and experienced players that have been there for years. But it's exciting and I will try and get to see a good few games throughout the season."