Saturday 21 April 2018

'Mad professor' Keane aiming to enhance Connacht's flair play

Connacht’s Kieran Keane in upbeat mood yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Connacht’s Kieran Keane in upbeat mood yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Back home in New Zealand he is affectionately known as the 'mad professor' but first impressions of Kieran Keane would suggest that he has a very sane approach to the game.

"The unfortunate thing for myself is that I dream about rugby," he says, explaining his nickname. "I dream about it when I'm awake and when I'm asleep. I have that mantle as you just described from a number of colleagues, because I am always trying to think ahead, innovate if you like.

"Innovation has always been part of my creed about playing the game and sometimes when you are listening to me you can get lost because I'm away with the fairies.

"I enjoy the game, I love it passionately. It's a big part of my life. Dreaming about it when I'm awake and when I'm asleep, and trying to innovate, that's part of KK, that's what he's about. It's a bit sad but...."

Apart from speaking about himself in the third person, the biggest thing that stands out from Keane's summation of himself is his relentless desire to succeed through innovation.

Optimism

Over the last few years, Connacht have broken new boundaries as a result of a similar mindset and if Keane walks the walk as well as he talks the talk, the Westerners' supporters have genuine cause for optimism again.

Pat Lam's departure dented the mood around the province but there was certainly a renewed sense of belief around the Sportsground during this season's first trip.

Keane arrives after a season in charge of the Chiefs attack and as any regular viewers of Super Rugby will know, their thrilling style of play will fit nicely with how Connacht want to play the game.

"I think it will be enjoyable (style of rugby) from the players' perspective and I think the supporters will enjoy it too," Keane smiles.

"It's horses for courses, so there's no point in saying we're going to do this and that.

"We had a lot of success with that (Chiefs attacking mentality). There will be a flavour of it but there will be a balancing too. You've got to play to your strengths and hide your weaknesses."

Keane is in his second week since he made the move to Galway. Having spent a week in the city earlier this summer, he is slowly getting familiar with his new surrounds but he has a lot more exploring to do.

Read more: 'I wasn't far away from starting third Lions Test,' says McGrath

With a name like Kieran Keane, it will come as no surprise to learn that the 63-year old's family originate from Ireland and how ironic it is that they came from Waterford.

Plans to delve into the family tree have however been put firmly on hold until after September 3 for fear of getting off on the wrong foot with the locals in Galway.

"My great-great grandparents were from there so I'm going to investigate it because, as you know, things fall away as people move on," Keane explains.

"I've yet to ascertain the actual places of origin but I know the names and I've got the tree. That's one of the things I'm looking forward to."

Keane's coaching journey has taken him across his homeland before ending up on the west coast of Ireland.

Truth be told, his move to Connacht might never have materialised had he not been pipped to the Chiefs head coach role by his old pal Dave Rennie but he will get a chance early on to settle a score when the Westerners host Rennie's new side Glasgow Warriors in the first game of the PRO14 season.

"I was invited to Connacht so that was really nice," he recalls. "I felt the love. When I came here, I was gobsmacked to be honest.

"It had been a bit of a dream of mine to come here. I got over and Willie (Ruane) and his gentlemen really turned it on. It was brilliant, really good. The personal inter-relations was fun and it was really welcoming.

"The other thing is, in the past I have been coaching battlers and teams who probably weren't the rock stars. I had a lot of success there and these (Connacht) guys mirrored a lot of that.

"My job with Tasman; a similar population, similar economically, similar budget in relation to the big boys, was probably less, so it fits well with me.

"They've had their success through the PRO12 with Pat (Lam) a short time ago so they've had a taste. That aspiration to want to continue in that successful way was also a factor."

Having signed for three years, Keane has a long-term vision for Connacht but he knows it will take time to fully implement his philosophies.

"We've a certain way of doing things in New Zealand and they've a certain way of doing things here," he adds.

"I'm not coming in here saying either is right or wrong or whatever.

"I'm more circumspect about the whole idea. I want to see how it operates here and if I think that there needs to be change, then it will slowly manifest itself and I'll be able to buy in."

The 'mad professor' has spoken. He now awaits his students to follow his lead.

Irish Independent

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