‘Playing for Ireland is the big goal!’

Buckley has sights set on Irish caps

These are certainly interesting times for Denis Buckley. The 26-year-old Roscommon native is back fully fit and starting for Connacht after a number of injuries in 2016. The shock departure of Pat Lam – announced only on Monday – is sure to bring change at Connacht, however Denis is philosophical about it. The talented loose head prop has been speaking to Seamus Duke about Connacht, Pat Lam, The Champions Cup, a roller coaster 2016 and his ambition to pull on the green jersey of Ireland.

We have to start with the announcement from Pat Lam on Monday that he is going to leave at the end of this season – was that a shock to you?

“It was a bit of a shock for sure but you can’t dwell on these things too much. It is part of the business really and no squad ever stays the same. Players come and go and coaches come and go as well. It is what it is now, and we have to get on with it. We don’t have the time to dwell on this one because we have a huge game this weekend (against Wasps). Look, I will be very sad to see Pat leave but he has got a great opportunity in the UK and I am very happy for him and his family and I will be wishing him all the best.”

Did you have a good relationship with him?

“Oh yeah I had a great relationship with him. He has been my coach for the crucial years in my development as a young player and he has given me a lot of help along the way. I have no doubt that he made me a much better player and I have been very lucky to have been able to work with him. By the time he goes I will have been playing under him for four big seasons and it has been super to work with him and I will miss him for sure.”

You have a crucial few weeks coming up with two games back to back with Wasps and a few huge games in the PRO 12. How are you feeling about them?

“Wasps back to back is huge for sure. They are second in the English Premiership at the moment and they are always there or thereabouts at the end of the season and they have some really fantastic players. There are not many clubs as big as Wasps in Europe and it’s a huge challenge for us but it’s a challenge that we will not be backing away from. They are two games that we are really looking forward to. The Premiership style is unique in terms of the brand of rugby but maybe we can give them something that they are not used to week in week out. We will be taking the game to them and it would be great to go over there and win this weekend. It will be very tough but we are very well prepared for it. We are in a very good place at the moment as a team and we will certainly be giving it a good go.”

2016 was a fantastic year for Connacht but maybe a bittersweet year for you personally as you had a few bad injuries and missed the PRO12 final. Back to full fitness now?

“It was a roller coaster of a year for me. I was involved in almost all the games throughout the season and then I broke my ankle two weeks before the PRO12 final and that was a tough one to take. But look, it’s part of the game and you just have to deal with injuries when they come and you can’t get too worried about them. In situations like that it’s all about how you deal with adversity and use it as a motivation for when you get back fit. I had a few injuries this year. I was back from the ankle injury in July and I also had a neck injury and a foot injury as well but I have played the last few games and I have come through fine so things are good. I feel great to be honest and I’m ready to get a run of games under my belt now.”

You got your 100th cap for Connacht recently in the televised home game against Cardiff and there was a special presentation too – that must have been nice!

“It’s hard to believe that I have 100 caps for Connacht now. It’s certainly not something I thought would happen when I started out but it is great and it’s something that I am very proud of and to have the opportunity to have made my 100th appearance at home was a bonus. If I was back the week previously the match would have been away so I suppose it worked out well! But you just have to get on with it. These things are grand but you must move on to the next game and that’s my focus now, to keep on playing and to keep improving.”

With regard to the international scene is that something that you have an eye on now that you are back from injury and fully fit?

“Oh for sure. It’s a big goal of mine to get into the international squad. But I am aware of the quality of players who are in my position in the squad at the moment and it will be very difficult for me to force myself in. But you see other players getting in at the start and you have to have a bit of luck with injuries etc. and if you hit form at the right time you never know what might happen. What I have to do is to keep myself in the shop window. I have to keep getting picked for Connacht and to keep playing well and if I am competitive and playing well then I will get noticed so that’s where my focus will be.” 

So what else is on the cards for 2017?

“I want Connacht to get back up the league table and to perform well in the Champions Cup and qualify from the group. That would be another great season but there is a long way to go.”

What sort of Christmas will Denis Buckley have – any parties?

“No partying at all. We play Ulster on the 23rd of December and Munster on the 31st of December followed after that by a crucial game against Ospreys. We have more Champions Cup games coming too but those three games in the PRO12 will have a huge effect on the league table come the end of the season so I’m afraid there will be no parties – it’s all work!

  “I hope to get down to Roscommon on Christmas Eve but we are training on St. Stephen’s Day so I’ll be back in Galway for that. But I am really enjoying my time with Connacht and we are looking forward to the rest of the season now and hopefully a long run of games free of injury!”