Tuesday 12 December 2017

Pat Lam: Let's make this a grand finale on our own patch

Connacht fans will get the chance to bid a fond farewell to Michael Swift tomorrow
Connacht fans will get the chance to bid a fond farewell to Michael Swift tomorrow

Pat Lam

It was a great feeling coming home from Italy on Sunday after getting the job done against Zebre. All last week, we had said that we needed to bring our best attack and our best defence and while it wasn't perfect, it was really pleasing for everyone the way in which we were so clinical.

There were a lot of pressures facing us such as the long travel, the heat and the fact that Italy legend Mauro Bergamasco was playing his last home game before he retired, but as a team we faced the challenges head on and came out with the best possible outcome - five points!

It's always enjoyable to play in and watch such an open, attacking game and some of the tries we ran in were straight off the training field which was very satisfying.

I was delighted for everyone on that pitch but it was a special day for young academy out-half Conor McKeon who made his Connacht debut. He executed very well and looked comfortable running the backline. He really enjoyed the experience and was delighted to hear at full-time that his club Lansdowne had also won the AIL, beating Clontarf that day.

On game day, myself and the management team were up very early (4am Irish time) to take part in the Darkness Into Light run that was happening at the same time in locations all over Ireland and abroad.

We are always up early for a 5k run on the day of away games - it helps to keep focused and sets us up nicely for the busy day ahead. But last week, it was a lot earlier and felt a bit special as we were running for such a great cause - Pieta House.

Everyone is affected by suicide or depression in some way and taking part in this event was an important way to help raise awareness and fundraise for Pieta House who help so many people struggling today.

During the week, we had the Special Olympics athletes in to watch training and meet the players as they prepare to go to Los Angeles for the World Summer Games in July. We were delighted to be able to make a donation on behalf of Connacht Rugby to support their entry.

The athletes got to witness a fairly intense training session as we prepared for the visit of the league leaders Ospreys on Saturday.

We are going up against a team stacked with internationals and British & Irish Lions. Players like Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar control the game expertly and they will be a real threat at the weekend.

It's safe to say that this is the biggest game of our season. Since pre-season, we have set our sights on a top-six finish and to go into round 22 with our ultimate goal still a possibility is very exciting.

It's uncharted waters for Connacht Rugby to have so much to play for at this stage of the season and we're really relishing it. The beauty of this season's Pro12 is that everyone is playing for something and come 5.0pm tomorrow, we will know our fate.

Should tomorrow be our last game, it will be the last time this squad of 2014-'15 will be together. It's always a difficult part of the season, no matter where you are, as you're saying goodbye to players or backroom staff who are moving on.

Teams evolve and change every year and that is the nature of the game but what's important is that every member of the squad appreciates that they played a huge part in the success of the organisation no matter how many caps they have.

I know the supporters will join us in bidding a fond farewell to one Connacht legend tomorrow - the inspirational Michael Swift. When I think that I retired at 34 and Swifty got to 37 having played over 260 games is just phenomenal. He's had a difficult year with injuries, but it never stopped him from remaining an unbelievable influence for the other players on and off the pitch.

He'll definitely be missed, but certainly not forgotten.

Swifty along with so many others will be celebrated on the pitch straight after the game and also at our big Awards Night tomorrow evening.

It's always a brilliant night and I know everyone is really looking forward to it.

What makes it so special is that it's not just about the senior team, but rather a celebration of the game and achievements from all over the Connacht province - from schools to clubs, underage representative teams to our women's teams.

We can't wait for tomorrow now and we hope that come full-time, every single person involved in and supporting Connacht Rugby will be celebrating something special.

Irish Independent

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