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Connacht host La Rochelle in Sportsground on opening weekend of new Challenge Cup

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Kieran Marmion will be hoping Connacht make a flying start to their Challenge Cup campaign this weekend. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

It is safe to say it, phase one of Connacht’s season has been a success and there are still three games to go before the international break. However, even a setback or two during the next few games won’t take away from the fact that this young side have given themselves a platform to make some significant progress through the Winter.

Pat Lam called it a “launchpad” and he can’t be far wrong. After the scrappy but gutsy 9-6 win in Treviso, Connacht sit fifth in the Guinness Pro 12 standings with total of 18 points garnered and just one defeat in six heading into two rounds of European Challenge Cup action including Saturday’s home tie with La Rochelle at the Sportsground (5pm).

The mission from the outset of the season has been a top six finish in the Pro 12 but the pathway to that target was always going to be a treacherous, especially in these opening months while the squad was not fully complete.

They knew that all three of the big Summer signings would not be available until the November 21 home tie with Zebre, and the squad’s young guns had to fill the void and deliver the results in the interim while we waited for Mills Muliaina (due to injury), Bundee Aki and Tom McCartney (both due to provincial rugby commitments in New Zealand) to arrive.

They’ve done that, and so much more. Names such as Darragh Leader, Jack Carty, Shane Delahunt, Dave Heffernan and Eoin McKeon were key in game six last Friday, holding their nerve when a momentum stopping defeat to an improving but much changed Treviso side appeared imminent.

Now they’re over round six, it’s safe to say that this Connacht squad have achieved everything anyone could have hoped for in the first two months of the season even before the final three games of that period.

The trips to Exeter and then the unbeaten Ospreys will be the bonus territory, a defeat to La Rochelle will of course be a setback but they are in position to ensure that come that game with Zebre, they’ll be very much in the mix for the start of the ‘middle period’ of this exciting campaign.

“We’re pleased,” said Lam after the win in Treviso, “when you consider what’s still to come, when you consider the youth of the team and the lack of experience in the team. To be in fifth place is a magnificent achievement but we’re not satisfied, we have just given ourselves a launchpad to pick it up once we get over these next couple of European games.”

He used the phrase “getting over” in relation to the forthcoming weekend which prompted a pertinent question: “what is the mindset in the Connacht camp ahead of these Challenge Cup game in terms of performance and results?”. Lam didn’t miss a beat with his confident answer.

“We have got a simple outcome, we want to be in the final in London. So just like in the Pro 12 where we want to be in the top six, we’ve set our benchmark, we’ve set our goal and we believe now that we focus on one game at a time.”

The wheel keeps turning then but it is easy to wonder just how the Westerners don’t switch off to some degree and make some alterations for a competition such as this after a good start with a small squad. Connacht assistant coach Dan McFarland, also speaking after the win in Treviso, was adamant that this wouldn’t be a problem.

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

CITY TRIBUNE

Galway hit out over camogie’s failure to have a split season

Stephen Glennon

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Galway senior camogie manager Cathal Murray who has yet to commit to another term in charge.

NEW Galway Camogie Chairman Brian Griffin has described the Camogie Association’s 2021 draft inter-county fixtures proposal, which does not allow for a split season between club and county, as “disappointing”.

Indeed, noting the Camogie Association has failed to gauge the mood of its membership, which he believes would be in favour of a split season, the new Chairman hopes Croke Park will revisit their proposal.

“It is disappointing,” says Griffin, who replaced outgoing Chairman Gerry Hennelly at the recent AGM. “You would expect they would have looked at it. They had plenty of time to examine it and there wouldn’t have been much resistance from County Boards if they did.

“A split season would give us a better chance to run our club championships, if it was the same as last year, right through the summer months and it would give people at club level an even playing field. There are lots of players who don’t play for their county and for them to have a clear run, like they had last year, was fabulous.”

In the Camogie Association’s 2021 proposal, the inter-county competitions would more or less revert to pre-2020, with the National Leagues running from February to May and the All-Ireland series from July to September.

This would leave just the remainder of May and June free for clubs in the first nine months of the year – and, even at that, county managements would still want access to their players while the Leaving Cert. examinations in June would also impact on club fixtures.

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

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CITY TRIBUNE

Connacht almost pull off a sensational comeback

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Connacht’s Tom Daly prepares to block down the clearance kick of Munster’s Keith Earls during Saturday's PRO14 encounter at the Sportsground. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Connacht 10

Munster 16

LIKE miners hammering away at a wall of granite rock, Connacht valiantly pounded and chiselled away at what is arguably European rugby’s most effective defensive unit on Saturday and didn’t lose heart. For virtually the entire game, Munster repelled everything that came at them, yet with the finish line in sight, they seemed to underestimate the level of resilience in their opponents and were almost caught.

The story of the game should have been a simple one. It was Munster being Munster, crushing the morale of their opponents. Connacht were 16-3 down by the hour mark, Chris Farrell’s try (while Connacht were down to 14 men), a conversion and three penalties from JJ Hanrahan marked Munster’s scores, Connacht’s response came from Jack Carty. So how did the all-powerful visitors go from unbreakable to unstable during those closing minutes.

Not many teams would still be full of the joys of life after eight visits to the opposition 22 without a single point to show for their efforts. Eight times during the game, Connacht had a platform to breakdown the Munster defence and they failed on each and every occasion up to the 75th minute of this bone crunching encounter. They had lost the likes of Sean O’Brien, new signing Ben O’Donnell, Sean Masterson and Finlay Bealham to injury at that point. Each left the field exhausted and in visible discomfort.

That’s not to say those on the field weren’t feeling the force of endless hits from the likes Tadgh Beirne, CJ Standar, Peter O’Mahony and Gavin Coombes either. They were and they were lucky to be in one piece for that matter. Yet it’s not the physical toll that makes the late revival so surprising in this fixture, it’s the mental toll. Just how Connacht managed to still be in the fight searching for a score by the end is worth considering because it might be a positive indication as to what is to come in the coming months.

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

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Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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CITY TRIBUNE

Bradshaw believes Galway on right road to challenge Dublin

Stephen Glennon

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Gareth Bradshaw, who has retired from inter-county football, pictured in action against Roscommon's Niall Kilroy in the 2019 FBD League.

MOYCULLEN’S Gareth Bradshaw, who announced his retirement from inter-county football at the age of 33 last week, believes that the Tribesmen can challenge for All-Ireland honours in the coming years.

Giving Galway boss Padraic Joyce his full backing, Bradshaw says, however, that both Joyce and his squad need time to reach the level that six-in-a-row champions Dublin are at.

“I do believe Galway are not far away, given the talent that’s there,” says Bradshaw, who is a Health & Safety manager with Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE), which develops onshore wind farms in Ireland.

“Having Padraic in there, knowing what he gives on and off the field, if he is given the time and the autonomy to go and do what he wants to do, I fully expect Galway to be competing with Dublin over the next couple of years.”

Of course, there is much debate these days about the massive resources available to Dublin, which far outweigh those of any other county. Yet, Bradshaw notes that if you look at “the cold, hard facts, Galway also has so much more going for it”.

He adds: “I know when you have two flagship teams – hurling and football – it demands a lot of finance, but for what we have in Galway – two fine third-level colleges and so many businesses supporting us – there is no reason why we can’t be better than what we are on the financial side of it.”

As a player who gave 14 years of service to the maroon and white, the determined defender experienced it all with Galway – the highs and the lows – and, yet, before his journey is discussed, it would be remiss not to allude to Moycullen’s magnificent county senior championship win in 2020.

He describes the club’s first ever senior title success as “a dream”, stating he always believed Moycullen had it in them to win the Frank Fox Cup.

“I had no doubt it was going to happen at some stage with the crop of talent coming through, but you were always questioning would it happen in your playing days. Thankfully, it did.”

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

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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