Pat Lam: Memorable Erris camp put smiles on our faces
Last week we had what was probably our best ever off-site camp. The senior management and a squad of 42 players spent five days in the beautiful town of Belmullet, Co Mayo.
It's a good drive there and myself and John Muldoon felt it when we had to skip off to London via Knock for the Pro12 media launch and then straight back to Belmullet. But it was certainly worth all the travelling.
I've been living here for over two years now and the west of Ireland still amazes me with every new place we are fortunate enough to visit.
What made this trip so special was the people we met and the unbelievable hospitality.
This was our last week of a rigorous pre-season schedule. It was important to go somewhere where we could train regularly but also have a lot of time to spend together as a squad.
We're a really tight knit group but like every season, you have new players coming in and with so many of the academy players stepping up to train and play with us, it's important to put in the time to really get to know your team-mates - you need to be able to challenge the guys you're out on the pitch with and trust that they are comfortable enough to challenge you.
That's the purpose of these camps and we were just delighted with everything last week.
Sean Barrett and John Keane at Erris Rugby Club were fantastic in everything they did for us and the facilities were top notch.
While we had a fair mix of Irish weather, it was a great experience for so many of the squad who hadn't been to this part of Ireland.
We travel a lot and stay in a lot of hotels and the one thing you'll notice with players is that they don't care too much about how fancy or not the hotel is. As long as the quality and the quantity of the food is high, they are happy players!
And at the Broadhaven Bay Hotel we were spoilt with the food.
We had time to work it off though with all the training sessions and other activities throughout the week.
Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham and others went down to Colaiste UISCE for some surfing, which they loved -even if it was a good bit colder than what they've experienced in the southern hemisphere!
Malachy Gaughan, our bus driver for the week, brought others out to Carne Golf Links at Belmullet Golf Club which is meant to be one of the best in Europe.
Again the people were just so welcoming, with the golf pros out there lending their clubs to the players and offering their expertise.
Pat, a local man, brought a group out fishing and there were some great stories and videos that came back from that boat excursion.
Apparently James Connolly was the only player not to have caught a fish, but I hear the other lads might have stitched him up! A big thanks to TJ Lennon for the use of his boat.
On the last night we had our annual 'Connacht's got talent' where all the players in their mini teams perform a song or routine.
This year, lip-syncing was the challenge. The older guys like John Muldoon and Nathan White secretly love it as they always get really involved and competitive on the night!
As well as all the fun and activities, we had quality sharp training sessions and meetings to sign off our team goals for the season.
Obviously Champions Cup qualification sits at the top but we have other internal goals, around for example our set-piece, home ground, the interpros.
All in all it was a very successful week and we couldn't be more thankful to everyone who looked after us. It set us up nicely coming into this match week.
We had nine weeks of pre-season and I'm really happy with what we achieved in that time-frame. But we know we now need to convert that into a good performance and a win over Dragons tonight as every point counts towards our ultimate goal
Tonight is a huge game for us and we have stressed the importance of starting well, both in the season as well as the game itself.
Dragons are a side that have been growing stronger and stronger and they've recruited well over the summer.
But it's great for us to be at home for the first game and I can't wait for kick-off tonight!