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Leinster can deliver salad days out west

This week we were told that Ireland has an obesity problem and that men with waists of over 37 inches are "officially overweight".

Having recently suffered the shame of popping 38-inch britches in Black Tie and then being sympathetically and snugly fit into a pair of 42-inch slacks better suited to Ronald McDonald, this constituted particularly depressing news.

So what to do? One thing is for certain, having tried it on a number of occasions, five-a-side soccer is out. Light-hearted fun and a handy way to exercise? Think again.

Indoor gymnasiums are treated like the Camp Nou and rather than playful banter you are subjected to confusing orders like "track back" and "house". And there always seems to be one self-appointed figurehead wearing shin-pads and the latest Barcelona away strip who thinks he's Les Ferdinand, plays like Les Dawson and treats himself to a 10-metre victory jog back to half-way when he eventually manages to knee a goal in off the wall.

We can recall one game played in a public park that ended in a couple of middle-aged men furiously squaring up to each other, aping that peculiar pigeon-like stance (chest out, arms in) favoured by footballers. An unseemly image which seemed to afford far too much importance to a contest that had one side ahead 21-14 and the other using a tree for a centre-half.


Earlier in that match, innocently taking a much-needed breather to lie on the grass and smoke a tipped cigar proved to be a big mistake. Despite our numerical and arboreal advantage, such activity was deemed "unacceptable" and elicited angry accusations of "letting the game down".

Quite. The apology to FIFA is in the post.

The fact is that a lot of the people who take this stuff so seriously do so because... well... they are not very good. So they wear the gear, berate team-mates and lunge wildly at opponents in the only games that will indulge their mediocrity.

Lack of sporting ability is a frustrating fact of life and better players will graduate to the better standards of competition -- something Connacht have discovered over the course of their professional rugby existence.

But, thankfully, unlike our five-a-side friends, rather than develop any misplaced notions to appease their frustrations, the lads stuck in Connacht tend to knuckle down and try harder.

Which is why, every year, you yearn for an end to the chicken-and-egg scenario which sees the province fail to attract the top players because of the lack of big victories and big crowds which are, in turn, attributable to the failure to attract top players.

Ian Keatley, Fionn Carr, Jamie Hagan and Sean Cronin cannot be faulted for moving to bigger teams. They have contributed handsomely to Connacht rugby and have the prerogative to further their careers as they see fit.

But the province needs something dramatic to reverse the trend and that could occur tomorrow week in Cardiff if Leinster claim the Heineken Cup. As has been well documented, that could propel Connacht into Europe's premier competition for the first time -- and then things might start to happen.

Benson Stanley was said to be as good as signed for Connacht, but the All Blacks centre was put off by what he heard about the situation out west and re-signed with the Auckland Blues. How much more attractive a proposition would Eric Elwood's side have been if they could promise him top-class European action against some of the best players in the world?

Elwood is still, apparently, in search of one or two signings at centre and prop and will be praying for a Leinster victory. Then, imagine if Connacht were to draw one of the elite clubs like Toulouse or Leicester in their Heineken Cup pool next season... all of a sudden the ball begins to roll.

There would be a huge demand for those home fixtures, forcing an expansion of the Sportsground's capacity and the funds to do so. Extra tickets sold, extra jerseys sold, extra food and drink sold inside the ground equals extra money in the coffers -- all backed up by a higher level of exposure that could only benefit Connacht in their bid to qualify again the following season.

Connacht never pretend to be what they are not, but Leinster can help them become what they could be and put an end to the lean times.

As for the obese? We're taking up cycling.

Irish Independent