THE transition is going smoothly at the Sportsground as a new era for Connacht rugby begins. Kieran Keane is in situ for just over a week now and all and sundry within the organisation have been keen to highlight how the communication channels have been open and flowing for the last three or four months, while he was in his native New Zealand seeing out the final weeks in his role as attack coach with the Chiefs of Hamilton.
On Tuesday, Keane met the media for the first time after a training session with his squad on the back pitch at the Sportsground. The intensity was high and the enthusiasm and appetite for the new era palpable. In various interviews players spoke of some new insights, subtle changes and a sense that heads up rugby will be taking centre stage, with some of the carefully crafted precision of last season taking a back seat.
Time will tell how all that works. Connacht begin the new era of PRO14 rugby on Saturday, September 2nd against Glasgow on College Road. Before that, they have an open training session with Munster rugby this Friday, a trip to Wasps the following Wednesday and a home tie with Pat Lam’s Bristol on Saturday, August 26. An altogether more fulsome pre-season than 12 months ago.
First impressions of Keane are around his straight talking and rugby loving attitude. Add to that his sense of confidence in his long standing experience in the game, his enthusiasm for moving to Ireland and the challenge of making the best of resources that might not match the best. When Connacht came knocking, he was immediately curious.
“I was invited over and that was nice. When I came here first, I was gobsmacked to be honest. It had always been a dream of mine to come here, I’ve got Irish descent as you probably realised from the name. I got here and Willie (Ruane) and his team really turned it on. It was brilliant and they were really welcoming.
“The other thing I could see is that in the past I’ve been coaching battlers and teams that probably weren’t the rockstars and I had a lot of success there and these guys mirrored a lot of that. They’ve had their success in the PRO12 with Pat a short time ago, they’ve had a taste and they want it to continue. That aspiration was also a factor.” added Keane.
There’s no dancing around the edges with Keane, he was quick to admit that the head coach role with the Chiefs had been his target and that he had “come second in the two horse race” in the application process for the vacant position. Once out of the running, Keane looked elsewhere as a role as head coach was very much his only goal.
Full coverage in this week’s GalwayCity Tribune