Stalwart confident good times are around the corner
Versatile Renmore native predicts further progress with province in seasons to come
At just 28 Andrew Browne is one of the senior group at Connacht, and more than anyone else, he will miss the influence of Dan McFarland next season.
The Renmore native has only known the training methods of one forwards coach throughout his career and the former Buccaneers and Galwegians clubman will now need to adjust.
Browne is 122 appearances into his stay at the Sportsground and the former St Joseph's student says McFarland will be missed when he leaves at the end of the season to join Glasgow Warriors.
"I've been coached by Dan since I was 17 in one capacity or another so he will be a massive loss," he says. "He's a fantastic forwards coach. With his knowledge and the amount of work he does it's insane.
"It's his knowledge of the game and of lineout and scrum. It is unbelievable the amount of stuff he knows and the way he coaches each player is very good.
"I always hear from other players who think the exact same thing even when he has coached the Wolfhounds and Emerging Ireland. He's up there with some of the best forwards coaches around.
"He will be hugely missed but I think I speak for everyone in Connacht - especially the forwards who he's had a major influence on - we wish him all the best."
For Connacht it has been a season of ups and downs but the undercurrent of success has created a feel-good factor in Galway.
Browne, a versatile blindside who can also play in the second-row, came through Connacht academy in 2007 and has become a stalwart, having followed his older brother Damien onto the scene.
But injury caught up with him in pre-season and since then he has only managed 11 appearances as Connacht battle for a place in next season's Champions Cup.
"When we went over to play Clermont in the pre-season friendly, we were training during the week and I tore a bit of my meniscus," he recalls.
"I had an operation - thankfully it wasn't too serious and I got back playing after about two months but it wasn't an ideal start to the season because I missed three games.
"It's hard work when you are injured; the return to play is all geared towards getting back onto the pitch so once I eventually did I was delighted.
"The knee got back at me before Christmas so I missed another couple of games with it but thankfully after that I haven't had trouble there since. But then against Gloucester I damaged my AC joint in my shoulder.
"I had an AC contusion that I got tackling Richard Hibbard so I could feel it immediately, but I thought it was just a stinger at first which I have got loads of in my career.
"I wasn't able to do the lineout or scrum with it so I couldn't really continue on and it turned out to be a AC joint contusion, but it wasn't too bad and I was back in a couple of weeks after."
It's been a poor run of results for Connacht recently - they dropped out of the Challenge Cup after that defeat to Gloucester and the Pro12 hasn't proved fruitful either.
Connacht were well on course to qualify for the Champions Cup when they beat Treviso 53-5 at the Sportsground on March 1.
However, their 18-17 defeat away to Cardiff put a halt to their drive for a top six spot and having lost to Munster, Ulster and Glasgow in successive games, their main aim for the season hangs by a thread.
And Browne says that if Connacht don't make it into the top tier of European rugby and have to play in the Challenge Cup again next term it would be a big disappointment.
"It has been the best season in the history of Connacht Rugby so it would be disappointing to not have Champions Cup rugby next season," he says.
"This season we've had the most wins and it's the most competitive we have been at this stage of the season.
"I can't remember any other year where we were pushing for an automatic Champions Cup spot. It would be disappointing because we gear our whole season into qualifying for the Champions Cup primarily and the last few games have been disappointing.
"Unfortunately we have slipped down the table a little bit but it's still not out of our reach if we finish the season well. This is something we are striving to get."
Browne is confident that there are promising times ahead for Connacht, even though the dream for this season might just be a bridge too far for the smallest squad in the league.
"When it's all said and done whether we make Champions Cup or not or we finish sixth, seventh or eighth we will still look back and say we are getting better year on year," he argues.
"We're striving for more success so in that way you have to look at it and think we won't be too down on ourselves. We know we've improved from previous years so that is good.
"I'm one of the older members of the squad now at 28 so it's crazy. You see some of the talent of the younger guys coming through.
"All you have to do is mention Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Marmion and the likes, who are doing unbelievably well. More lads are coming through the academy as well and I know Nigel Carolan does really good work there.
"They add more excitement and there's more depth to the squad which is good, so hopefully we can keep on improving."