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Connacht up to the Challenge



Date Published: 23-Dec-2009

THESE are heady days for rugby in the west, or at least they appear to be. After five wins in their last seven – including victories away in England and France – it looks as though this current group of Connacht players are finally beginning to reach their potential.

There is work to be done but Friday night’s comfortable home victory over an uninspired Worcester side suggests there is a focus to this current Connacht side which has been lacking in past seasons. Consistency is creeping into the vernacular of Connacht rugby.

From here Connacht will surely be targeting a semi final in this competition and some signs of progress in the Magners League, even second bottom would do there. Their best chance of reaching the last four and emulating their best ever season in Euorpe will be via a home quarter final.

First and foremost Connacht will have to beat Montpellier in round five on January 15 to guarantee progress to the last eight. Only the pool winners advance. If they do that then the inevitable bonus point win in Madrid will guarantee a home quarter final.

It might even see them take top seed and avoid one of the three Heineken Cup sides that enter the competition at that point. The prospect of Leeds or Bourgoin at home would offer a tastier route to the last four than say a possible clash with Sale, Northampton or even Leicester.

Judging by what we have seen in this pool already, there is no reason to doubt Michael Bradley’s side ahead of the Montpellier visit and there is every reason for Connacht to set their sights on lofty goals.

Gavin Duffy talked this week of targeting winning this competition, and why not with the possibility of a home draw all the way to the final very much in the pipeline? All that sets the tone and is by no means getting ahead of ourselves.

Connacht are rightly heavily favoured to advance having won in Worcester and Montpellier and their home form suggests no side will have it easy in the last eight. In fact, their overall form since a horrible September has been encouraging.

On Friday, they once again used a rock solid lineout and unyielding scrum to lay the platform for success. Almost all of Worcester’s set piece play was disrupted to some degree. Interestingly Worcester’s only score on 24 minutes, came on one of the few occasions where they managed some sort of a solid scrum, this merely served to highlight the importance of Connacht’s superiority over the two games.

Chris Pennell got the visitors only try off a canny move in midfield that was created by Callum Macrea. It was a bit of a body blow to the men in green who had dominated the early exchanges but had failed to register a score. Mathew Jones converted for a 7-0 lead.

The reaction from the home side was quick and impressive with a good chase on the restart and after a good attacking spell, Ian Keatley struck a penalty to narrow the gap. Connacht were showing signs of a real threat in the loose, They were also inventive in attack with Frank Murphy making darting breaks and John Muldoon covering good ground in open play.

It was the Portumna man who scored the opening try after a quick fire Connacht attack that saw a combination of quick passing, straight line barn door running from Sean Cronin and rapid recycling at the breakdown for Murphy to release his captain on the short side 15 metres out. The conversion was missed but Connacht led 8-7 at the break.

The Connacht pack were in their element for the second week running against a Worcester side that lacked bite. George Naoupu certainly looks the part at eight while Mike McCarthy and Bernie Upton are forming a fine lineout partnership.

The backline is working well too, Ian Keatley is proving a persistent menace in open play, making yards where he shouldn’t and keeping the defence honest, the service from Murphy is consistently good and on Friday, Aidan Wynne came of age at inside-centre with a brilliant effort.

But one man above all else is integral to that backline and it is Niva Ta’auso. his defence is rock solid but with ball in hand he has the potential to be a game breaker each week. His darting run from the 22 and extra scramble on the ground set up try number two, finished off by Gavin Duffy on 49 minutes to make it 13-7.

Duffy’s all round display was superb, time and again a Worcester side devoid of a plan B and seemingly making up plan A as they went along, kicked high balls at the Connacht back three and Duffy, in particular, dominated the air but Bibo and Carr didn’t let the side down either.

Ian Keatley’s second penalty of the contest stretched Connacht’s lead to 16-7 with 20 minutes left and although Worcester threatened briefly, the result wasn’t in doubt to the end. A late drop goal from Keatley neatly wrapped up proceedings.

There will be steeper tests in the coming weeks. Changes will likely be made for the trip to Thomond on Stephen’s Day as it comes smack bang in the middle of a eight week period of action. Watch for the recently injured duo of Johnny O’Connor, Andrew Browne to return and the likes of Adrian Flavin, Michael Swift and Mike McComish all to be drafted in for the clash with Munster.

Squad depth, consistent form, and top of a Challenge Cup pool, just who is this team and what have they done with Connacht?


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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Archive News

Flying start for hurlers



Date Published: 25-Feb-2013


THERE was mixed fortunes for Galway’s senior GAA teams in their respective National League games at the weekend, with the hurlers accounting for the reigning champions Kilkenny and the footballers suffering a surprise defeat away to Louth.

Almost 10,000 people turned up at Pearse Stadium on Sunday to watch Galway’s 3-11 to 0-17 victory over the All-Ireland champions – although an official attendance could not be secured as the gates had to be opened before throw-in to accommodate the large number of patrons still seeking to gain entry.

Some confusion over the 2pm start time to the fixture – it has originally been scheduled for 2:30pm by Croke Park – would appear to be the underlining reason for the chaotic scenes at the turnstiles, although the hundreds of fans who gained free entry into the game will not be complaining.

In any event, Galway coach Tom Helebert was delighted with the numbers supporting the Leinster champions in Pearse Stadium and, despite losing the All-Ireland final after a replay last September, he believed the buzz was still very much in Galway hurling.

“There was a great crowd in attendance today – great support – and they responded very strongly to the good things we were doing over the course of the game and that is why the result was important,” said Helebert.

“We’ve worked very hard to make sure we are making progress with every game – performance related progress – and that is our focus. That is why getting goals, not conceding a goal, and building on some of the blocks we had there from last year was very important to us today.”

Goals from Mullagh’s Davy Glennon, Craughwell’s Niall Healy and Portumna’s Damien Hayes set the home side on their way to victory and, again, Helebert noted that the goalscoring prowess of the trio was a reflection of the talent currently in the side.

“We know that within the squad we have a couple of guys who are good finishers. So, you are always trying to set up how to get the right ball into these lads. And, today, particularly against the breeze in the first half when the ball wasn’t travelling as solidly forward, we were able to open up the space and that was a great advantage to us because we had good stickmen inside. The couple of chances came our way and that was fantastic.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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Archive News

Galway’s first-half goals prove crucial in first league test



Date Published: 27-Feb-2013

Galway 3-11

Kilkenny 0-17


THREE first half goals – all of which were set-up by the classy Joe Canning – laid the foundation for an opening day win over reigning champions Kilkenny in this entertaining first round National League fixture at Pearse Stadium on Sunday.

In many respects, most of the intensity to be found in this clash between last year’s two All-Ireland finalists was conjured up in a lively opening period and this was much appreciated by the vocal 9,000 plus hurling enthusiasts who turned up at the City venue.

After the frantic – and, often, nervous – early exchanges, Galway exploded to life in a 90 second spell when Mullagh’s Davy Glennon and Craughwell’s Niall Healy showed brilliant opportunism to pounce for the opening two goals.

On 14 minutes, a probing Canning delivery eluded tussling duo Jonathan Glynn and JJ Delaney and when the ball shot out the back, Glennon was onto it with lightning speed to pull first time to the Kilkenny net. It was clinical from Glennon.

While the Cats were licking themselves down, the Tribesmen’s caught them cold again shortly after; this time, Canning’s decisive ball finding Healy, who, swivelling neatly off his marker, cut inside and dispatched a pin-point effort beyond the hapless Eoin Murphy.

Those two goals put Galway 2-3 to 0-3 to the good and Anthony Cunningham, Mattie Kenny and Tom Helebert could not have asked for a better start from their charges. In many ways, the two majors underlined the mercurial side of Galway’s play, in that the team was having serious problems with their distribution in the early stages but, out of that, the two goals came from two excellent deliveries.

That said, the third Canning delivery was the crème de la crème. Under pressure touching the right sideline, the Portumna man spotted his club-mate Damien Hayes out of the corner of his eye and with unerring accuracy Canning executed a sublime cross field ball to find him.

It was then Hayes turn to work a little magic . . . taking the ball down so his angle would not be as acute, slipping seamlessly beyond the legendary Tommy Walsh, cutting inside the imposing Jackie Tyrrell and hammering home an unstoppable effort at the near post. You couldn’t replay that passage of play enough!

In any event, that 32nd minute effort came at an absolutely crucial time for Galway – given Kilkenny had struck over five points in a row through Richie Power (free and 65), Tommy Walsh, Richie Hogan (free) and Lester Ryan to cut the deficit to just one.

In addition, Galway were finding it difficult to hit the target from play from further out the field, underlined by the fact that they only hit one point from play – through Gort midfielder Aidan Harte in the third minute – in the opening half.

The Tribesmen would not score a point again until the 46th minute when Jonathan Glynn and substitute Tadgh Haran combined to set up Hayes for the well-worked score. The only consolation was that Kilkenny, despite beginning to impose themselves in the middle third, were only able to muster up a single point of their own through a Hogan free in the opening 11 minutes of the second half.

Despite shipping those three first half goal goals, there were times when Kilkenny were the better side but, uncharacteristically, their accuracy up front let them down, particularly in the second period. In this time, they shot ten wides to Galway’s three, with Hogan the biggest culprit.

Early in the second period, the Danesfort sharpshooter had two frees in front of the posts but, inexplicably, he struck his efforts left and right of the target. To some extent, this was the turning point of the contest.


For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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