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Injury-hit Connacht head into defining period

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Galway's Claire Molloy who played a key role in Ireland's Six Nations title clinching victory over Scotland last Sunday.

REWIND the clock back a couple of weeks to the half time whistle during Connacht’s Pro 12 tussle with Cardiff and all was looking bright in the world of the westerners. They led, although they should have led by more, injuries were clearing up and a top six finish seemed well within their grasp.

Since then, the negatives have far outweighed the positives with a trip to Thomond Park next up for Connacht on Saturday evening (5:15pm) to face a play-off chasing Munster side. The chances of another performance on par with the season’s best effort at Christmas in the (27-16 win) seem slim for Pat Lam’s men, but it has been a season of many surprises.

The list of things that have gone wrong since half time at the Arms Park is substantial. Jake Heenan’s season has come to an end due to a shoulder injury, the Blues scored a try nine minutes beyond the 80 minute mark to steal a win from Connacht’s hands, highly influential forwards coach Dan McFarland has confirmed his departure in the summer and Lam has received an €8000 fine from the Pro 12 for his post game comments about officials after that loss.

The three week lay off might just have added to the frustration and it is reasonable to expect  a fired up performance from Connacht in the early stages in Limerick on Saturday, on a par with what we have seen for most of the season. Despite the Cardiff loss, Connacht remain in sixth place holding a three point advantage over the Scarlets but, realistically, to keep the Llanelli side at arms length, Lam’s men will need at least three wins from five to close out the campaign.

The injury news was not good for Connacht this week on multiple fronts. To start with, Jake Heenan sustained a rotator cuff tear in his right shoulder and that is set to keep him out for the rest of the campaign. The one silver lining is that he doesn’t need an operation and Connacht expect him back for the start of next season.

The 22-year-old former New Zealand Under 20 captain missed 12 matches last season with a shoulder injury and 15 of the 23 games so far this season with a recurrence of that injury. Connacht’s other natural openside, Willie Faloon is also out for the remainder of the season after dislocating his shoulder again. He returns to Ulster in the off season and so, has played his last game in green.

Back in January, the best case scenario for Bundee Aki’s injury, sustained in the defeat to Edinburgh, was ten weeks but that will stretch to at least 11 now as the talented centre is not available for the Munster match. He has missed six games so far.

Equally as worrying is Nathan White’s ongoing lumbar spine issue affecting his leg. The tight head prop is being closely monitored and is due for a specialist review in the coming days. A knee injury to Dave McSharry was the other key bit of bad news. Full prognosis on that is expected next week.

The good news is that Kieran Marmion is back fit and fully available at scrum half while Eoin McKeon also make a timely recovery as he is the likely replacement for Heenan at number seven. While the 24-year-old Galwegian is regarded more as a six or and eight in the back row positions, he has made six starts this season in the number seven role and will be a likely regular in the coming weeks.

The drama around Saturday’s fixture can only be heightened by the fact that the referee for the game, Leighton Hodges from Wales, was the target of Pat Lam’s ire in the aforementioned post game press conference. Unfairly or not, the spotlight will be on the referee, that’s a certainty.

Three of Connacht’s remaining five pro 12 games are at home to play off chasing sides, Ulster, Glasgow and Ospreys. The other is an away trip to Parma to face Zebre in early May. The challenge is tough, so ending a winless run in Munster stretching back to 1986 could be necessary. It’s a tall order all things considered.

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

CITY TRIBUNE

Big boost for Connacht as dozen make Irish squads

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Former Galway minor hurler Shane Jennings who is one of six Connacht players named on the Irish U20 rugby squad for the upcoming Six Nations.

By Rob Murphy

THERE was some off season good news for Connacht this week with confirmation of 12 players from the Sportsground having made it into international squads at senior and U-20 level.

Six Connacht players were called into Andy Farrell’s 37-man senior international squad for next month’s two tests against Japan and USA. Three of those are looking to make their international debut in Tom Daly, Paul Boyle and Caolin Blade; while three more are looking to continue their progress with the Irish squad in Dave Heffernan (5 caps), Ultan Dillane (18 caps) and Finlay Bealham (14 caps).

For Daly, the progress from fringe starter to captaining Connacht has been a rapid one. The 27-years-old inside centre from Carlow is now a key part of Andy Friend’s plans having led the way in starts this season and his consistent form has clearly caught the eye of Farrell too, with the recent stand-out effort in the win over Munster at Thomond Park no doubt a key factor.

At 24, Boyle has already amassed 57 appearances in the green of Connacht having made his debut in 2017. He also has captained Connacht on multiple occasions and while he missed some of the end of season Rainbow Cup games, the Gorey native was a consistent almost ever present part of the back row during the PRO14 campaign.

Monivea man Blade is back in Ireland camp for the second season in a row and will hope to get his first cap this time around. The 27-years-old is being rewarded for another excellent season in the nine shirt for Connacht where he led the team in starts at scrum half and scored five tries in 20 appearances.

Ireland will play two games in the Aviva Stadium next month starting with a clash against Japan on July 3 before they host USA on July 10.

The Irish U-20s will be involved in Six Nations action, starting tomorrow against Scotland with the month-long tournament taking place entirely in Cardiff to help guarantee a safe environment for players.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway surrender top flight status after Clones collapse

Stephen Glennon

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Galway’s Robert Finnerty who scored 1-3 in their costly National League relegation play-off defeat to Monaghan in Clones on Sunday.

Monaghan 1-21

Galway 2-17

(After Extra-Time)

NO thermometer was required to take the temperature of those hundred or so die-hard Galway supporters who travelled to Clones last Sunday. With their side five points to the good and time almost up, they watched on in horror as a winning lead was blown.

The result: Galway beaten. The result: Galway are no longer a Division 1 county. The result: Galway now have just won one game in their last seven competitive outings. The result: Galway have gone from a side on the brink of something in spring of 2020 to an outfit that has regressed and have now been cast back to the land of mediocrity.

That Galway boss Padraic Joyce didn’t make himself available to the media afterwards to put some positive spin on the performance only compounded the result. By not offering some take, he left a dangerous void in which disgruntled supporters have begun to weave their own narrative about where Joyce’s Galway are at.

Ironically, with time almost up in Clones, it appeared the Tribesmen had turned the corner after a poor run of form. First half goals from Paul Kelly and Rob Finnerty saw Galway lead this thrilling relegation game by five points going down the home stretch, but in the five minutes plus of normal time injury-time, they came undone.

In hindsight, hauling off Galway’s two best forwards – Robert Finnerty and Shane Walsh (although he was nowhere near his best) – was a mistake as it not only blunted the point of attack but deprived it of the guile and experience that they needed to see this game out.

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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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway U20s set to make up for lost time in delayed final

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Conor Walsh who is a key member of the Galway U20 hurling team seeking Leinster final glory when they take on Dublin next Wednesday.

GALWAY’S U20 hurlers have a number of injury concerns ahead of their long overdue 2020 Leinster final clash against Dublin at O’Connor Park, Tullamore, next Wednesday evening, June 23. Throw-in 7:30pm.

Among them are Sarsfields midfielder Alex Connaire and Craughwell wing-forward Adrian Prendergast, both of whom scored in the Tribesmen’s victories over Laois and Kilkenny last December, but they now look set to miss the provincial decider with groin and pelvis injuries respectively.

“This game is just too early for them, it has just come too quick,” says Galway manager Jeffrey Lynskey, who says Connaire and Prendergast join an injury list that also includes long-term victims Mark Gill of Castlegar (metatarsal) and Conor Hynes of Liam Mellows (shoulder).

“We are lucky enough though that we have depth in the squad and can pull on lads who are performing and doing well (in training). They have trained well, in fairness to them, over the last five weeks.”

Indeed, Lynskey says the form is good in the camp, outlining the focus has been getting the players back up to speed with in-house and challenges games against the Galway development panel.

“In all the in-house and challenge games, they have performed really well. They are all looking forward to getting back. They have trained hard, really, over the last five weeks and they put a serious bloc of work in during the third lockdown. Gym-wise, they all came back in fantastic shape.

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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