Monday 26 February 2018

Player Diary: Denis Buckley - Thomond heroics soon forgotten if we don't back it up in Cardiff

Matt Healy and Aly Muldowney celebrate Connacht’s victory at Thomond Park
Matt Healy and Aly Muldowney celebrate Connacht’s victory at Thomond Park

Denis Buckley

For everyone involved in Connacht Rugby - players, management and supporters - last Saturday's win at Thomond Park is one to be remembered.

But still, that success won't be long fading from memory it if we don't back it up with another win this evening in Cardiff.

It was one of those days that you'll cherish for quite some time, though. When you create a bit of history and end a really long run of defeats like we had in Thomond Park, I think you are entitled to savour the moment.

It was a great achievement by the squad and it meant the Sportsground was a pretty nice place to go into on Monday morning for the review.

Like always - win or lose - we did a thorough review of the game. There was a good bit of criticism for some areas of our game, particularly from the first half.

We got into some good situations, had a lot of possession and good territory, but we went out of our structures a little bit and went into one-off runners at times.

That allowed Munster to stay in the game, instead of us really twisting the knife when we felt that we could have had a healthier lead at half-time.

But that's Munster as well: they are pretty good at not letting you run all over them, so I suppose it was a combination of both our slip-ups and their determination that we weren't further clear.


We could have done one or two things a little bit better but you have to realise how good the opposition were and are.

It probably wasn't that apparent from watching the game on TV, but the conditions were quite tough.

It wasn't lashing rain, but the pitch was pretty wet, the ball was slippery and there was a really strong wind that we were playing into in the first half. That wind was worth a few points, but in the first half we went out with a big focus on starting well and starting fast.

With a small lead and with the wind at our backs, the second half was all about going back and executing our roles.

Pat Lam touched on it afterwards by saying how we've dealt with adversity this season and in the past, and dealing with the unexpected is all part of how you adapt and defend a lead.

Mental toughness is important in the crunch moments. We talk about that a lot and that is all about being able to do your job under pressure. Because of how we've trained and how we've performed in other games, we were able to execute our roles and hold on and get a good try at the end.

We had 14 men for ten minutes towards the end when they were within a point of us, but we just went into our systems and our patterns, which produced some good rugby and chances to score.

The dressing-room was an emotional place afterwards, but from my point of view the win meant a bit more than usual.

One of my good friends from school, Stephen O'Gorman, passed away last week and his funeral was on Friday morning.

I didn't train with the lads on Friday as I was up in Dublin for his funeral, so taking the win at Thomond Park brought the emotions all back. He was sick for a while, but it was still tough to say goodbye to a friend.

It was massive win for the province though. It was 29 years since Connacht had won down there; you could see how much it meant for players like John Muldoon, who has been in the squad a little bit longer.

Even for myself, I've played against Munster a good few times now. Okay we beat then last year in the Sportsground, but to win away at Thomond Park topped that. It was massive for me.

Maybe the three decades had weighed on the shoulders of some of the senior players, but the younger lads haven't taken much notice of that. They haven't lost too many games for Connacht - to anyone - and the bravery shown by the likes of James Connolly, Ultan Dillane and Shane Delahunt was huge.

I won't be involved for the next few weeks, though. I suffered a high ankle sprain in the second half at Thomond. I'm in a boot now for three weeks, but hopefully it'll clear up in time for the Christmas inter-pros.

It was a wonderful achievement but there was a realisation from everyone that it was just four points too: there is the same number of points up for grabs today against Cardiff.

The general feeling was: 'well done, that's a good achievement and we should be proud of ourselves', but there is no taking away from the importance of this trip to Cardiff.

Last year didn't go so well for us over there, so we need to put in a good performance today to make sure we stay at the top.

We learned a lot of lessons from the way we failed to finish that game out last year. Even earlier this season when we played them in the Sportsground they scored 31 points against us and we were frustrated to have allowed them in for a bonus point try at the very end.

We know we're going to have to be on our game to pick up a win on the road - a second away win in a row would be brilliant - and I'm sure the boys will all be 100pc focused on the challenge.

Irish Independent

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