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Connacht finally get to hit big time in Heineken Cup



Date Published: {J}


CONNACHT take their historic first step into Heineken Cup rugby when they face familiar foes and English Premiership leaders Harlequins in the opening round of the prestigious competition at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday evening (8pm).

It is a massive night for the province and an even bigger test of their credentials, but Connacht coach Eric Elwood was in buoyant mood this week, stating that both the coaching staff and players were ready to embrace Heineken Cup rugby.

He readily admits, however, that he is under no illusions, acknowledging that if his side make the same mistakes as they made in recent Rabo league defeats, in particular to Cardiff and Ulster, then the punishment handed out by the top sides in Europe will be far more severe than anything they have experienced to date.

“So, we are under no illusions,” reiterates Elwood. “If you have a three minute 40 second slip up in the Rabo [as against Cardiff Blues], you are going to get punished. You don’t want to have the same slip up or lack of intensity any time because you are playing against out-and-out quality internationals and they are going to punish you.

“We know the quality of the teams we are playing against. We are playing Harlequins, who are top of the Premiership; we are playing against Toulouse, who are top of the French championship; and we are playing against Gloucester, who are fourth [in the English league] and have a proud tradition as a rugby team as well.

“So, it is important for us to realise that to be competitive we have to be at our best for the 80 minutes, maintain our concentration levels and maintain our intensity levels. That is what is required by any team playing in Europe. While this is our first time in the Heineken Cup, they are the challenges ahead of us. They are just the facts. We understand that it is going to be difficult.”

In many respects, under the present circumstances, the Westerners couldn’t have asked for a more tricky assignment. Yes, when these two sides last met in the Amlin Challenge Cup last December, Connacht gave as could as they got – losing their opener at the Stoop on a respectable scoreline of 20-9 before narrowly going down 9-15 at home in their subsequent meeting a week later – but the landscape for both clubs has changed much since.

For one, Connacht have lost a number of the key figures from 12 months ago, including the influential quartet of Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Fionn Carr and Ian Keatley, all of whom, you could argue, have not been adequately replaced. Furthermore,Andrew Browne and Keith Matthews are long-term injuries; Johnny O’Connor is out for four weeks with a calf injury; and Michael Swift sustained ligament damage to his knee against Ulster last Saturday evening.

Secondly, Harlequins – who won the Amlin Challenge Cup with a dramatic final victory over Stade Francais in May – have carried this momentum into their current campaign and boast 10 wins out of 10 games in all competitions this season. Eight of those have been secured in the Premiership to leave them four points ahead of chasers Saracens and 14 points clear of third placed London Irish.

Given that Connacht are coming off a four-game losing streak in the RaboDirect, Elwood’s charges will have to dig deeper than they ever have before if they are to harness the intensity levels required for their debut game in the Heineken Cup. The coach agrees but says one characteristic Connacht players have never fallen down on in his time is heart and commitment.

“That is one thing you can always remark about a Connacht player, and for all the years I have been here that has been a trait of ours and this bunch of players is no different. They have always boxed above their weight. They don’t want for effort and commitment, but, unfortunately, just sometimes there is a lapse in concentration levels or some of the younger guys might make an error.

“Those things are going to happen and it is how we deal with it which is important. However, as regards digging deep, I would never, ever question a guy in a Connacht jersey about that type of commitment in the time I have been here. That is never in doubt as far as I am concerned.”

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

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



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



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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



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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