TIME TO KICK ON Connacht’s Gavin Duffy finds a gap against the Ospreys’ Marty Holah and Lyndon Bateman last Friday evening at the Sportsground in Galway. Pic: Sportsfile
Victory is a welcome bonus
THE Magners League drew to conclusion over the weekend and here at Connacht we finished the season with a well-deserved 24-20 victory over the Ospreys.
It has been a rollercoaster of a year and I think it is fair to say that the games we failed to win stand out over the victories — even the great nights at home when we beat Llanelli, Glasgow and Newcastle.
Narrow defeats to Leinster and Munster when the Sportsground was packed to the rafters in March were hugely disappointing results, but the two defeats to Ulster were the lowest points of the season.
Having found ourselves on top of the Northerners and, more importantly, leading on the scoreboard, we failed to make it count and came away from both games with not even a losing bonus point. For a team that had ambitions of qualifying for the Heineken Cup next year, it was unacceptable.
When I looked at the final standings on the league table on Sunday morning the one statistic that struck me was that the Ospreys, for all their big names and resources, had only managed to win one game more than us in the eighteen games played.
However, they finished in seventh place and thirteen points ahead of us due to their ability to earn bonus points throughout the season. Even when the Ospreys had a bad day at the office this season they still came away with something tangible in the form of a bonus point. When Connacht had a bad day at the office we came away with nothing but bumps and bruises and dented pride. When we get it right we can beat anyone but when we get it wrong…!
That is the big difference between achieving our goal of bringing Heineken Cup rugby to the Sportsground and sitting here typing this piece for The Mayo News and rueing the chance that has just passed us by. Rest assured, lessons have been learnt.
NEW FACES ARRIVING AS SOME OLD FRIENDS LEAVE
THIS is always an uncertain time of the year for rugby players with many lads finding themselves out of contract at the end of the season. Some re-negotiate deals to stay at their current clubs, others look elsewhere, be it by necessity or by choice, and some decide to hang up their boots.
Connacht is no different and again there will be comings and goings with new faces around when the squad returns from holidays on June 16. For one reason or the other players like John Fogarty, Conor McPhilips, Tom Tierney, Darren Yapp and Matt Mostyn won’t be throwing their kit bag in the door of the dressing room next year. And while it is part and parcel of professional sport, it’s sad to see lads go that you have built up a bond with over the years.
Matt ‘Truck’ Mostyn, for example, is a player I first met while playing for the Irish ‘Sevens’ in Dubai back in late 2000. Just out of secondary school, I was in dreamland togging out beside Matt and other Internationals like James Topping, David Wallace and Killian Keane.
To this day, ‘Truck’ and I would still reminisce about ‘One of the Great Tours’ when we came back from 17-5 down at half-time to beat the mighty Moroccans in the Bowl Final.
Unable to get a flight home for two days after the tournament, we duly availed of the opportunity to revel in our triumph! There weren’t too many Irish teams winning silverware in those days!!
On wet and windy days up in the Sportsground we often joke how it’s a far cry from the day we were holding the Fijians scoreless under the blistering sun in the desert of Dubai. We leave out the bit that we ultimately lost 55-0 and the game was only seven minutes a half but never let the truth get in the way of a good story and all that!
All five players have given a lot to Connacht over the years and both the squad and the club marked their contribution with tokens of appreciation. Also, at our own end of season ‘bash’ on Saturday, John Muldoon received the Players’ Player award. As confirmation of the fact that the forwards outperformed the backs this season, prop forward Brett Wilkinson picked up the Coaches Player of the Year and Johnny O’Connor scooped the Supporters Player of the Year.
Hopefully next season with the new additions to the backline in the form of the promising duo Fionn Carr and Ian Keatley from Leinster, the powerful centre Niva Ta’auso from the Otago Highlanders, plus the experienced pair of Frank Murphy and Kieran Campbell (who will be challenging the buzzing Conor O’Loughlin at scrum-half) we will capitalise on the good work by numbers one to eight.
IRELAND’S CALL MEANS A TRIP TO DEEP SOUTH
ALTHOUGH the league season is now over there is still a lot of rugby to come with Munster playing Toulouse in the European Final on May 24 while Ireland take on the Barbarians three days later before flying to New Zealand and Australia.
I was delighted to be named in the touring party and look forward to the challenge ahead. With Leinster winning the league and hopefully Munster recapturing their European crown, the squad should be in good spirits heading south. Thanks for your support during the season. As always, it’s greatly appreciated.