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Inside Track

Connacht must seize the day for it may not happen again

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Connacht scrum half Kieran Marmion who is set to renew rivalry with Glasgow Warriors' Finn Russell in Saturday's Guinness Pro12 semi-final at the Sportsground.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

IN 131 years of competition, Connacht have never won anything; haven’t really come close to capturing silverware. Even in the old Inter-pro era of three games per season, the Westerners were generally out of their depth, making up numbers. The game trundled along in the province, rarely threatening to break free from the shackles of subservience.

Of course that didn’t stop Connacht from producing players of international class like Mick Molloy, Johnny Dooley, Ciaran Fitzgerald, Ray McLaughlin, John O’Driscoll, Noel Mannion and Eric Elwood over the years, but they never had enough of them at the same time to carry the fight to Ulster, Leinster and Munster on a consistent basis. There was the odd milestone win, but basically Connacht were perceived as also rans.

Initially, when the sport turned professional in the mid-nineties, the province’s lot remained largely unchanged. There were more games, but Connacht continued to struggle in terms of results. Their poverty on the field and, in financial terms, off it was no longer going unnoticed by the money bods in the IRFU and plans were drawn up to disband the province as a professional entity.

That proposed move sparked outrage among the rugby fraternity in the West of Ireland, leading to over a thousand of them marching on the offices of the IRFU in Dublin in January of 2003. The protest achieved its aim and sport’s governing body backed off. For years afterwards, Connacht remained the poor relation of the game in Ireland with insufficient funding and player resources, but local pride and a sense of belonging never diminished.

Gradually, Connacht began to stir as a more competitive force. Under Eric Elwood, they made genuine progress and occasional headlines – notably, that barnstorming triumph over Toulouse in the then Heineken Cup in December of 2013 – even if the win to loss ratio remained disappointing. His successor as Head Coach, Pat Lam, threw himself enthusiastically into the role; bringing fresh ideas and impetus to the Sportsground. He recruited beyond Connacht’s normal range and he led the squad to their highest ever placing of seventh in last season’s Guinness Pro12.

Still, at the start of this year’s campaign, nobody envisaged Connacht going where they are now. Unlucky not to reach the Challenge Cup semi-finals, they have been a breath of fresh air in the league, winning a remarkable 15 of their 22 matches, completing their first ever double over Munster, and only pipped at the top of the table by Leinster. The men in green have also been playing some breathtaking rugby along the way, earning rave reviews for their sense of adventure and superbly-honed offloading game.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

 

 

 

Connacht Tribune

St Thomas’ hearts left shattered by player who is one of hurling’s greats

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DESPAIR: St Thomas' team manager Kenneth Burke is consoled by his wife Emer and son Freddie after the Galway champions' agonising defeat to Ballyhale Shamrocks in the All-Ireland Club Hurling Semi-Final in Thurles on Sunday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

There’s a new respect and appreciation out there for just how good St Thomas’ hurlers are despite losing Sunday’s thrilling All-Ireland Club semi-final in the most heart-breaking of circumstances to Ballyhale Shamrocks at Semple Stadium.

Rank outsiders at odds of 100/30 – their price having drifted when news emerged that county player Shane Cooney and attacker Damien McGlynn would be injury absentees – St Thomas’ made a mockery of their pre-match standing by coming desperately close to pulling off their greatest-ever victory.

People will say it was only a semi-final, but apart from their injury woes, St Thomas’ were also still carrying scars from their only previous encounter with the reigning All-Ireland champions – a final thumping by 17 points at Croke Park in the Spring of 2019.

Furthermore, it wasn’t as if the Shamrocks were going to be caught off guard after their early experiences in the provincial championship – getting out of jail against St Rynagh’s of Offaly and surviving a fright from Carlow’s Mount Leinster Rangers. Any complacency in the Kilkenny team’s ranks had been well and truly knocked out of their system ahead of facing St Thomas’.

They knew what was coming from the Galway champions, but struggled to cope with the challengers’ snappy stickwork, fervour, sheer heart, and overall quality. Ballyhale were knocked off their stride and never really looked like winning the game until TJ Reid drove a second dagger through St Thomas’ hearts in injury time.

Of course, questions will be asked of the vanquished that after putting so many bodies between their net and Reid – maybe they had too many! – the Shamrocks’ sharpshooter still managed to hit the bullseye. But we have seen this kind of late drama in hurling matches before, especially when teams are defending a two-point lead.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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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Connacht Tribune

Shefflin gets a big reality check as Galway collapse against the Dubs

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Clarinbridge U20 players Cian Moore, Eoin Ryan, Oisin Shannon, Gavin Lee and Christy Brennan show their delight after defeating Castlegar in the County A Final at Duggan Park on Sunday. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

THE most troubling aspect of the turkey shoot at Parnell Park on Sunday was that Dublin could have won by 25 points or more. Goodness knows, it was bad enough as it was with the Tribesmen being trounced on a 3-29 to 0-19 scoreline.

In retrospect, the warning signs were there in Ballinasloe the previous weekend when Galway took a long time to put Offaly away. The Midlanders may be improving, but they are coming from a very low base and haven’t even participated in the Leinster championship since 2018.

Galway were a shambles against Dublin despite fielding a slightly stronger line-out on paper. Darren Morrissey, Evan Niland and Niall Burke were back, while the inclusion of the Mannion brothers, Padraic and Cathal, beefed up their bench.

Yes, we know Dublin fielded a much stronger team; are difficult to beat at Parnell Park; and have overcome Galway in their last two championship meetings, but still the gulf in standard between the teams was startling. The Dubs were in a different league.

Henry Shefflin is not used to days like this and the difficulty for him is that his arrival in Galway has sparked an expectation that big things lie ahead of the Tribesmen in 2022. But regardless of the man in charge, supporters are ignoring the reality of the team’s fortunes over the past two years. One win in their last five championship matches tells its own story.

Galway do have some players to come back and it’s too early in the year to go all negative about their prospects, but what we saw in Parnell Park was alarming. Some of the players they are trying out are not up to it and while the Galway management need to unearth new talent, they must be more selective in this regard.

Six players who featured in last summer’s championship exit to Waterford were involved at one stage or another last Sunday: Morrissey, Niland, Burke, Gearoid McInerney, and the Mannions. Two more have retired since – Joe Canning and Aidan Harte – and another two, Shane Cooney (knee) and Jason Flynn (hamstring), are set to miss the championship.

For more, read this week’s Connacht 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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Connacht Tribune

National Archives offer revealing window into Ireland’s recent past

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Uneasy alliance...Charlie Haughey and Margaret Thatcher on the steps of 10 Downing Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

I’ve been covering the political so long time now that I’m the one they send down every year to look at the records being released by the National Archives. It used to be that confidential Government documents were kept for 30 years under lock and key before they were released. Thus the material that would have been opened before Christmas would have been the records from 1991 –  the last year of Charlie Haughey’s era as Taoiseach.

But about seven years ago, the British changed the rules on their releases and gradually brought the confidential period down, year-by-year, from 30 down to 20. They are now at about 22 years.

This left the Irish State in a bit of pickle. If we kept our rule we would have been badly out of sync with the British.

What did that matter? Well, the main event as far as it concerns the Archives is the Anglo-Irish stuff. That’s all the meetings abut Northern Ireland between the Taoiseach of the day and the British prime minister – and all the stuff generated between other senior politicians and officials.

So over the past few years from the Irish archives, we have been learning of the extraordinary summits between Haughey and Thatcher, with her going on massive rants about the IRA and the Government here not doing enough to prevent IRA attacks, and the Gardaí being like Keystone Cops because they were using arcane methods to gather intelligence.

Which was all very well. But that stuff – and seen from the prism of Margaret Thatcher and her officials – has been in the public realm in Britain for at least six or seven years. So, to borrow a phrase from the Northern Ireland peace process, there was not full parity of esteem when it came to viewing the documents.

The media always get in about a week early to preview the documents and write up reports on what they say – they appear on the days that the documents are released.

For more, read this week’s Connacht 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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