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Magnificent Connacht clinch home semi-final by flooring the champs

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Connacht's Bundee Aki gets the ball to prop Ronan Loughney during Saturday's Guinness Pro12 clash at the Sportsground. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Connacht 14

Glasgow 7

FOR a brief moment in the final five minutes of Saturday’s gripping end of season encounter at the Sportsground, we were treated to one of those moments where you have to stop and take it all in.

Connacht were leading by seven, Glasgow were fighting for a draw that would secure home advantage in a play off semi final and it was all hands on deck at the saturated College Road venue.

Packing down in the scrum in those closing minutes were Tom McCartney at loosehead prop, the Kiwi hooker was scrummaging for the first time in over half a decade because of all the injuries, Dave Heffernan at hooker, the industrious and unbreakable Ballina man was fourth choice at one point this year, and JP Cooney at tighthead, option number six for that role at the outset of the season.

That scrum held firm, didn’t shudder and provided the ball Eoin McKeon needed to burst off the back and get Connacht going again. That scrum epitomises a season where the westerners have completely re-written entire sections of the manual, .

In front of what must have been the loudest Pro12 crowd of the season, Connacht delivered on their final objective. Having secured Champions Cup rugby weeks ago and a first ever top four play off position just last week, Saturday was about the top two and a home semi final, as it happens, it will be against Gregor Townsend’s Glasgow Warriors. The reigning champions will be a little wiser when they return in two weeks but no less beatable too.

Last season ended in late May away to Gloucester in Kingsholm. A play off game for Champions Cup rugby qualification after Connacht’s strong Pro12 campaign had yielded a seventh place league finish. We thought the 40-32 extra time defeat that night would remain etched in the memory for years to come, but that heroic effort has been pushed way back in the memory banks. This team has determinedly ensured that.

After that game, the fears for the following campaign were very real, Connacht were not active in the market of signing new players. There appeared to be a deficit of talent in key positions and the chances of holding their seventh spot seemed difficult at best. At that point, no one could have believed that Pat Lam’s men were about to kick on to whole new level and reach the top two.

In Saturday’s 23, only one player wasn’t in Connacht’s squad at the start of last year – AJ MacGinty was signed in October after the World Cup. That’s a key stat when trying to come to terms with what the management team including Dave Ellis, Andre Bell, Jimmy Duffy and Conor McPhillips have achieved here. Big money signings don’t fix all the problems. Connacht certainly spent some money in 2014 but then said, that’s enough. Time to put the work in too.

For more, read this week’s Galway CityTribune.

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

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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.

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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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