Coach Keane in jovial mood ahead of big Inter-pro derby clashes

Connacht's Denis Buckley leads this charge against Brive in the European Challenge Cup tie at the Sportsground last Saturday, with team-mates Cillian Gallagher, James Mitchell and James Connolly in support. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.
Connacht's Denis Buckley leads this charge against Brive in the European Challenge Cup tie at the Sportsground last Saturday, with team-mates Cillian Gallagher, James Mitchell and James Connolly in support. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

THERE’S a perception out there that Kieran Keane doesn’t smile. Particularly among Dublin-based scribblers.

The suspicion was there anyway but his rather blunt interview with a Sky television reporter earlier this season cemented the view that Connacht Rugby’s head coach isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs.

And while not wishing to destroy his deadpan, hard-man reputation, we can confirm that the New Zealander can indeed crack a smile. He can even have a laugh, too.

Keane did quite a bit of both – laughing and smiling – during Tuesday morning’s press conference to preview Saturday’s home game against Ulster (7.35pm).

Whether it’s the festive spirit, or whether it’s the fuzzy-feeling from beating seven shades of you-know-what out of Brive, Keane could almost be described as bubbly ahead of this key Christmas clash with Ulster, the first of three inter-pros including Leinster away on New Year’s Day and Munster in Thomond the following week.

Turns out all his team has to do is put seven tries past French opposition and Keane is beaming from ear-to-ear.

“It’s similar to the first round of the Challenge Cup, where we used that for a little bit of momentum. It’s brought a lot of bounce around the place, and a few smiles, and a bit of humour. It’s good,” he said.

Keane, when asked how much home advantage was worth against Ulster, joked: “About eight points . . . at a guess (hearty laughter) . . . more if you can arrange (more laughter)!”

When it was then pointed out Connacht have two away games coming up after Ulster, and he wouldn’t want to be starting with an eight points deficit, Keane burst into laughter. “Quite right!”

Later, he looked up to the ceiling and chuckled away again, almost oblivious to reporters, when asked if the Christmas fixtures – a first for Keane – would put a stop to his festivities.

“It’s great. It’s all new to me. It’s a different challenge. We’re just revelling in it at the moment; can’t see any negatives,” he smiled.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.