Monday 20 January 2020

Pat Lam calls on West to wake up to his Connacht stadium vision

Connacht 35 Munster 14

Niyi Adeolokun goes over to score Connacht’s third try despite the efforts of Munster’s Darren Sweetnam during Saturday’s game at The Sportsground. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Niyi Adeolokun goes over to score Connacht’s third try despite the efforts of Munster’s Darren Sweetnam during Saturday’s game at The Sportsground. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Connacht's Peter Robb is tackled by Munster's Johnny Holland and Rory Scannell. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Connacht's Ultan Dillane fends off the challenge of Munster's Simon Zebo. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Shane O’Leary and Ultan Dillane embrace after the final whistle. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

The Sportsground rocked so violently at the final whistle of this latest history-making moment in Connacht's season that you feared for the safety of the old dog track.

In the heaving Clan terrace, it was as if the foundations itself were imploding from the force of the raucous celebrations, as if the place was in danger of not, in rugby parlance, supporting its own body weight.

They boomed out 'Walls come tumbling down' at the final whistle; a nod to the manner in which this wonderful expressionist team have demolished all known preconceptions this term.


And also, too, given the song's creators, the Style Council, a reflection of the enigmatic manner in which they have done so, giving the lie to all those in these parts who decry and deny the possibility that Ireland possesses players who can deliver efficacy wrapped in a beautiful bow.

As Thomond Park struggles to break five-figure attendances this season during their slump, who would have ever thought that Connacht might find themselves housed in a venue that may no longer be fit for purpose?

The ticket touts on College Road two hours before kick-off may have been making their own amusement but they masked a real truth; substantially more than 1,000 people were refused entry to this game, as they had the previous home game, as they will the final home game.

Connacht have developed into a strident force through collective will and commitment to harnessing, in tandem, their skill levels and work ethic; now, perhaps, it is time for the wider community, especially those with deep pockets, to respond in kind.

Whisper it, but Connacht, who can never be accused of being too big for their boots, are arguably becoming too big for this quaint old place.

"There's no doubt we need a stadium," said Pat Lam, after witnessing his side's stunning bonus-point victory, hewn despite falling behind by 14-6 with just 25 minutes gone, before scoring 29 unanswered points thereafter to secure Champions Cup football for the first time on their own merits.

"When you're turning away people two weeks in a row you'd easily fill it. But we need a realistic stadium of 10, 12, 15,000 people and it's not a stadium for Connacht Rugby, it's a stadium for Connacht people.

"We're talking about 2020 the Capital of Culture and you can have concerts here, you can do different things and I envision that I said I can see it for the whole community to really get hold of.

"I did a few talks this week in the Latin Quarter to businesses and talked about how everyone's got to help each other, how it's about relationships.

"They wanted to know how could they help us and I said, 'You guys are a reflection of the rugby team. If you're on your own it's a waste, but if the vision is for Connacht and Galway to be massive everyone's got to build relationships and network.' It's just an exciting place to be in."

Right now, Lam is the pied piper of the gloriously, fully awake West. He and his team are leading a revolution; slowly but surely, the rest of the province are following in his wake.

"When you see a crowd like that and the atmosphere but it's not just tonight, you see the Connacht gear everywhere now," he explains.

"On the way to school with my boy yesterday, we must have counted ten to 20 people, of different ages wearing Connacht gear. He told me when he first started going to PE, there were very few.

"It was all Leinster and Munster jerseys. He said, 'Mate, everyone wears Connacht jerseys now.' That's a realisation of where we are and where we can go."

Munster started confidently, scoring a lovely Simon Zebo try and a powerful close-in effort from Mike Sherry which, aided by Johnny Holland's confidence, earned them a significant advantage.

However, Connacht stuck to their game-plan which slowly energised them as much as it seemed to enervate Munster, whose response was pitiful and pathetic.

A wonderful effort from the ever-improving Niki Adeolokun begun the revival before Munster's indiscipline imploded; two yellow cards and a penalty try before half-time edged Connacht 20-14 ahead at the break.

After it, they tightened their grip, with Adeolokun pouncing on a Darren Sweetnam error to nab his brace, while Finlay Bealham secured the bonus point try beneath the posts.

"Composure was the biggest thing," explains the newly anointed Irish international, "because sometimes, you know, you have to chase the game and you can get out of your structures a bit.

"But we just stuck to what we had been doing in training and we got the result."

Only one team seemed to have faith in their game-plan and each other. It is easy to profess a mentality; executing it separates the magnificent from the mediocre.


"Mentality is based around confidence and belief based on the fact that you've worked on this and you can do it and read the pictures," adds Lam.

"So forget the score, forget the crowd. Just say, 'Is this moment in time where we have the ball, is this on? Yes it is, so go and execute'.

"If we don't then we'll need to just get better at it.

"I've read a bit about our 'crazy running' and 'do we kick?' If you ask me to jump in a plane and fly it down that's pressure, but for a pilot there's no pressure whatsoever.

"What we do is what we train. People challenge me and say, 'Jeez isn't it pressure, you put pressure on yourselves?' - but only if we don't train it."

Connacht now aim to guarantee a play-off spot against Treviso before meeting Glasgow here to decide between them who will contest a home semi-final; the pressure increases all the while but Galway's giddiness masks any fear.

"There are two jobs in the world, jobs you love to do and jobs you have to do," says Lam. "And this is a job I love doing."

Connacht - R Henshaw; N Adeolokun, B Aki (F Carr 79), P Robb (J Carty 74), M Healy; S O'Leary, K Marmion (J Cooney 67); D Buckley (R Loughney 74), T McCartney (J Harris-Wright 74), F Bealham (JP Cooney 68), U Dillane, A Muldowney (A Browne 64), S O'Brien (J Connolly 72), E McKeon, J Muldoon (capt).

Munster - S Zebo; D Sweetnam (A Conway 56), F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; J Holland (I Keatley 67), C Murray; J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 56), M Sherry (N Scannell 56), S Archer (J Ryan 68), D Ryan (J Coghlan 70), B Holland, CJ Stander (capt), T O'Donnell, J O'Donoghue (R Copeland 56).

Ref - B Whitehouse

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