Connacht Rugby on crest of a wave
The rise of Connacht Rugby over the past three years, and the last year in particular, has been one of the great sporting stories of recent years in this neck of the woods and it all came to fruition with that unbelievable win against Leinster in the Pro12 final in Edinburgh last Saturday.
On paper Connacht should not have had a hope of beating Leinster, the aristocrats of Irish rugby, with at least ten Irish internationals on board. But, under Pat Lam, Connacht have played the kind of rugby that we have not seen in this country before. The Samoan manager has instilled a free-spirited style of play that the Connacht players have bought into, and when you add that unique style to massive heart and determination and will to win, then it is an irresistible combination.
Not only did Connacht beat Leinster in the final,
they blew them away. It was amazing to see the Connacht players boss their illustrious opponents all over the field.
Leinster simply did not know what hit them. It was a truly magical display and I for one would have loved to have been there to see it live. There must have been 20,000 Connacht supporters present at the match on what was truly a fantastic occasion.
I know that there are players from a few different countries on the Connacht panel, but there are players from Roscommon, Sligo, Mayo and Galway there too.
My thoughts on Saturday were with Rossies Jack Carty and Denis Buckley, both of whom played in most of the regular games this season. However both were injured at the key time unfortunately. I did see Denis Buckley join the celebrations after the match. I also understand that all 46 players who took part this season were brought to the final, which was a mighty gesture.
The reception at the game and at the homecoming was something that we have never seen before in Connacht Rugby. Those in authority will have to build on this success now. The suggestion that the Champions Cup games could be played at various venues throughout the province next season is a good idea. It would require the co-operation of the GAA of course, but it would be nice to see a major Champions Cup or Pro12 game in the five Connacht counties over the next season.
One thing is certain, Connacht Rugby needs a new home. The Sportsground was grand until interest in the team increased. Now it is totally unsuitable. It’s a glorified greyhound stadium and Connacht will have to build a proper ten to fifteen thousand capacity ground now, probably in Galway.
Of course they must build on what they achieved this season on the field too. They will have to try and hold on to Pat Lam for at least another few seasons if possible. However I have a feeling that the IRFU will try to get him to do the Irish job after Joe Schmidt’s term is over. There is massive goodwill out there for Connacht rugby and they will have to tap into it.
Summer of sport heats up
The weekend after next is promising to be one of the busiest of the year on the sporting front, especially locally.
The big game between Roscommon and Sligo takes place on Sunday (12th) in Hyde Park and there are several more big GAA games on that weekend as well.
The Euro 2016 tournament starts and Ireland play their first game on Monday the 13th against Sweden and the Roscommon Races are on Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th as well. Bring it on!
Bragging rights on the line
The 2016 Roscommon & District League Cup final this weekend has thrown up a novel pairing of Ballymoe FC and Castlerea Celtic and there should be a huge crowd at the final in Lecarrow.
There is nothing to beat a local derby and there will be plenty of slagging and banter on the sidelines as bragging rights are up for grabs.
After winning the league recently Castlerea will be the favourites but – as they say – ‘anything can happen in the cup’.
McGeeney attacked by wayward Brolly
I have good time for Joe Brolly for the most part and some of his columns in the Sunday Independent in recent months have been top class, but he was way out of order in his total character assassination of Kieran McGeeney on The Sunday Game last week.
By the way, I am no admirer of McGeeney, but he didn’t deserve the hatchet job that was done on him by Brolly during the Cavan v Armagh game. We have to remember that the vast majority of these people are amateurs who do this job for the love of the game.
I wouldn’t say that McGeeney is getting a fortune to manage Armagh and it is not right that Brolly is allowed to say what he likes about people he doesn’t like without being challenged.
It was down to Pat Spillane, who was on later that evening, to defend McGeeney, which is simply not good enough. Someone who is editing The Sunday Game should tell Joe Brolly to take it easy.
CHAMPIONSHIP Crystal Ball…
Leinster SFC Quarter-Final – Dublin v Laois in Nowlan Park on Saturday:
The Dubs’ bandwagon is taken out of Croke Park to an unlikely setting in Kilkenny. The 26,000 capacity will be tested for sure, but I don’t think those present will see an upset.
Laois are a decent side but they are not in the Dubs’ league. Anything other than a comfortable Dublin win would be a shock. Prediction: Dublin.
Ulster SFC Quarter Final – Monaghan v Down on Sunday in Clones:
Monaghan are an excellent side who have won two out of the last three Ulster titles and they will surely be in the mix again this year. They have a strong side, particularly up front, where Conor McManus is probably the best forward in the country at the moment.
Down are traditionally a great championship side but they have slipped back in recent years and they had a disastrous National League. Prediction: Monaghan.
Munster SHC – Waterford v Clare in Semple Stadium on Sunday:
As the saying goes ‘this will be no place for a gasun’ as these two heavyweights go head to head in a big game for the third time in a couple of months.
Clare are many people’s favourites to win the All-Ireland this year but I have a feeling that Waterford are waiting for them in the long grass. It promises to be an epic encounter. Prediction: Waterford.
Leinster SHC Quarter-Final – Westmeath v Galway at Cusack Park, Mullingar on Sunday at 3.30 pm:
Westmeath hurling is on a high after their U-21s beat Kilkenny last week but it would be a massive shock if they were to win here. Galway should have it fairly easy. Prediction: Galway.
Leinster SHC Quarter-Final – Offaly v Laois in Tullamore on Sunday:
Both sides have a lot to prove and both are struggling this year. There won’t be a lot in it but at home Offaly might just do it. Prediction: Offaly.
Note: We got all our predictions right again last week. It’s 13 out of 13 so far – but this week might see an end to the 100% record!