Tuesday 12 December 2017

West will stay awake in Elwood's capable hands

Sean Diffley

The late Chris Crowley's party piece was his famous thunderous rendering of 'The West's Awake'.

Chris, 'Mister Connacht Rugby' in those amateur days, was, in truth, perpetrating a bit of an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms because Connacht nearly always lost in times gone by.

Now things have changed dramatically, and if his glass, with which he kept time on the bar counter with his "slumber deep", was replicated today it would be a case of smithereens all over the place.

And where did they come from, those latter-day heroes who humbled Leinster, should have beaten Munster and have thrown up players most of us have never heard of before? Players like John Muldoon from Portumna, described by one report as "probably the best defensive back-rower in the country".

This new-look Connacht didn't jettison the 'Cinderella' tag by accident. The fact is, despite something like less-than-warmhearted support from the IRFU, Connacht have a back-room staff which is at least equal to anything in the other three provinces.

Something worthy of consideration is that the managing-coaching duo of Michael Bradley and Eric Elwood, unlike the top dogs in the other three teams, had consistent involvement in full international football.

Bradley, captain and scrum-half for Ireland, was a member of the 1985 Triple Crown-winning team, and when he retired in the amateur era he had passed the record number of caps for scrum-half by the famous Mark Sugden.

I have particular memories of a match at Murrayfield when his dummy near the Scottish line paved the way for great try scored by Trevor Ringland.

Elwood, temporarily domiciled in Dublin with Lansdowne and later back in his native city with Galwegians, was an outstanding out-half and place-kicker.

In 1994 he scored the winning points in Twickenham to beat England, in those days when it wasn't easy to beat England on their home ground.

But a famous try by the blond wing Simon Geoghegan was converted by Elwood despite the appealing tones of 70,000 home supporters, who fervently belted out 'Jerusalem'. A nerveless Elwood also kicked two penalty goals during the 13-12 Irish triumph.

The previous year at Lansdowne Road, Elwood also starred in Ireland's 17-3 win over England when he scored two penalty goals and two drop-goals.

So, the combined experience of the pair, Bradley and Elwood, has awakened the west with a vengeance. And as Bradley departs after a job well done, Elwood takes over next season as the head coach.

And like all the provincial grounds in Irish rugby, the Sportsground in Galway is now a comfortable, modern stadium where the Connacht office headquarters are in situ. It is there that the chief executive officer, Gerry Kelly, conducts the business.

Kelly is an experienced administrator, a former teacher in Garbally College in Ballinasloe, he was the manager of the Irish schools squad which was so remarkably successful in Australia a few years ago. So, the awakening west is in good hands as the game goes from strength to strength in the former backwater.

Irish Independent

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