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Connacht are coming good at the right time

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Date Published: {J}

THE irony of it all can’t be lost on Michael Bradley. Seven seasons he has been at the Sportsground and now when the former Irish international scrum half is about to leave Connacht, the team is playing the best rugby of his protracted tenure. The Cork native would be entitled to a wry smile in the circumstances, but he must also take immense satisfaction from the squad’s progression over the past couple of months in particular.

Bradley has been a loyal and dedicated servant to Connacht rugby and though his tactics and team selections occasionally came under scrutiny, he had immersed himself in developing a potent rugby force out West and given the province’s recent rollicking displays, he could be set to depart on an incredible high. Suddenly, previously elusive qualification for the Heineken Cup is no longer a pipedream.

Sure, they are still propping up the Magners League table, but the gap between Connacht and the other teams is now nearly as yawning as in previous seasons. They are now only four points behind struggling Ulster with four rounds of the competition remaining and have far more momentum than their counterparts up North. John Muldoon and company still have work to do, but the chance is there.

 

Connacht, of course, can also secure qualification for the Heineken Cup through the European route. This Saturday at the Sportsground, they take on Bourgoin in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final and should Bradley and his already appointed successor, Eriu Elwood, manage to guide them to victory, they will also have the considerable advantage of a home semi-final draw. Naturally, it’s a big ask for Connacht to go all the way, but their current body language and performances suggests that they are afraid of nothing these days.

Having beaten Leinster everywhere bar on the scoreboard at the RDS the previous weekend, it was heartening to see Connacht edge another tight encounter against title-chasing Edinburgh at the Sportsground on Friday night. Initially, it appeared that the men in green had the capacity to rout the Scots when they stormed into a thoroughly deserved 11-0 lead after just 13 minutes. Ian Keatley landed a penalty and also converted a well executed try from Brian Tuohy.

Though still controlling possession, Connacht were unable to add to their early haul before being caught napping for two Edinburgh tries from Tim Visser and hooker Andrew Kelly, both of which were converted by Phil Goodman. Trailing by 11-14 at the break, Connacht were entitled to feel sorry for themselves, but the regained the initiative in the third quarter thanks largely to a Keatley intercept try. With 54 minutes gone on the clock, they had fought back to lead 19-14 only to again fall behind. This time Roddy Grant’s converted try did the damage.

In the past, Connacht would not have either the belief or the capacity to pull the game out of the fire in similar circumstances, but they weren’t found wanting on Friday night and replacement out half Miah Nikora emerged as the hero of the hour with a thumping penalty from just outside the Edinburgh 10-metre line. The result extended Connacht’s unbeaten run on College Road to six matches and must leave them in perfect heart to face up to their French visitors on Saturday, despite the ungodly starting time of 1pm.

Bourgoin, however, still present a formidable challenge for Connacht to overcome. Remember, they only lost out to Northampton in last year’s showdown having achieved a tremendous away victory (32-30) over London Irish in the semi-final. Now freed from relegation worries in their own Top 14 domestic league, Bourgoin will not be lacking intent and possess a quality out half in Benjamin Boyet. They are a big strong physical outfit and certainly won’t fear their hosts.

The indications are that Saturday’s semi-final will be a sell out – that’s the least Connacht deserve – and the manner in which Fionn Carr and his team-mates have been upping the ante in recent matches, they are well capable of qualifying for the province’s first European semi-final since 2004. Though Elwood and the squad have only been awarded one-year rolling contracts amid further IRFU murmurings about cost-cutting, they have the high morale ground at present and, hopefully, that state of affairs will continue for what yet could yet prove a landmark season for rugby in the West.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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