Elwood has cause for optimism as curtain falls on rocky year
CONNACHT bring the curtain down on a turbulent but, ultimately, positive season when they take on Glasgow in their final RaboDirect Pro12 fixture at Firhill this evening.
It's been a season that included a 14-match losing run, when Eric Elwood's men appeared to be cursed by the rugby gods, but a seminal Heineken Cup victory over Harlequins proved a turning point and Connacht go into this clash looking for their fourth win on the bounce.
With the Connacht Professional Game Board working hard behind the scenes, further positives arrived with the establishment of the Sportsground as a high quality venue, a marked increase in supporter numbers and revenue, the development of younger Irish-qualified players and some clever signings for next season, as well as a new CEO in Tom Sears.
Their participation in next season's Heineken Cup, courtesy of Leinster and Ulster making this year's final, is another significant bonus and has put a spring in their step heading into their final outing.
There are individual as well as collective motivations for Connacht this evening, with Ronan Loughney facing a serious test of his Ireland credentials against Jon Welsh, while young Denis Buckley will be looking to build on recent impressive performances on the loose-head side.
Gavin Duffy, Frank Murphy, Mike McCarthy and John Muldoon have been stalwart performers for the province all season and are players who still rightly believe they have a national relevance, with McCarthy especially pushing hard for a place on the summer tour to New Zealand.
A win this evening would send Connacht into the summer in particularly good cheer, but with Glasgow needing at least a draw to ensure their place in next week's play-off semi-finals, the home side could have the extra motivation to see them through this clash.
However, even if this campaign ends in defeat, Elwood and his men can look ahead to the next campaign with genuine confidence, which has not always been the case out west in previous years.
GLASGOW -- S Hogg; F Aramburu (capt), A Dunbar, G Morrison, DTH van der Merwe; D Weir, H Pyrgos; J Welsh, D Hall, M Low; T Ryder, R Gray; R Harley, C Fusaro, J Barclay. Reps: P MacArthur, M Cusack, R Grant, A Kellock, C Forrester, C Cusiter, R Jackson, C Shaw.
CONNACHT -- G Duffy (capt); K Tonetti, E Griffin, H Fa'afili, T O'Halloran; M Nikora, F Murphy; D Buckley, A Flavin, R Loughney; M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, J O'Connor, G Naoupu. Reps: D Murphy, S Maguire, R Ah You, M Kearney, R Ofisa, P O'Donohoe, M Jarvis, J Loxton.
REF -- P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).
Glasgow v Connacht,
Live, TG4, 7.30
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.