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Milestone day as Connacht men go top of league table

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Connacht's in-form winger Matt Healy who scored a late try in their Guinness Pro12 victory over Treviso at the Sportsground on Friday night.

Connacht 33

Treviso  19

TAKE a moment, enjoy it, Connacht are top of the Pro12 table after seven rounds and gearing up for a trip to Thomond Park in round eight later this month to face second placed Munster in a seismic fixture. Friday’s nervy three try 14 point victory over an improving Benetton Treviso side helped Pat Lam’s men leapfrog the Scarlets and has turned heads around Europe.

If you only go to one Connacht away game this season, then Limerick on November 28 is the time for it. No venue has proven to be more intimidating and no opposition more challenging for the westerners in the professional era. They’ll need everything on their side, but they’ll go there with a shot at making monumental statement.

A position at the top of the table is great but the real battle is only beginning. Connacht had an opportunity to steal an edge early on this season in their bid to make some major progress and they’ve grasped it. They’ve got a seat at the table now and it is a whole new ball game from here on.

First, they need to take stock, rest some walking wounded assess their overall position and not dismiss two weeks of European action too readily either. They won’t, they haven’t before under Lam and they won’t now. He’ll rotate for sure and manage the workload with the phenomenal five day 7,000 kilometre Russia trip taking over all plans for a few days, but he’ll go out to win both games against Enisei and Brive.

Momentum is key and a defeat in either game (even on Saturday at 8am Irish time in Krasnoyarsk where extenuating circumstances prevail such as -12 temperatures) will be a blow to that and Connacht will target progress in the Challenge Cup again this season, but the Munster game is now an incredibly important fixture. Hardly a must win but very much an exciting opportunity.

Look at last season, it was such a mixed bag for sure but progress was made. The end result was a failure to progress to the European Cup but in the most heroic of circumstances. An extra time loss to Gloucester after a display that underlined how far this team has come. Victories over Munster and Leinster backed that up earlier in the campaign, but three successive home defeats to Ulster, Glasgow and the Ospreys showed how far they had to go too.

Nothing that has transpired so far this season can answer the question of whether this team are ready to bridge the gap to the top sides in the league. Friday’s victory at a dry and breezy night in the Sportsground illustrated the incremental improvements, but also highlighted some worry defensive frailties that are making it more difficult to put games to bed sooner.

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

CITY TRIBUNE

Big display against Munster could see Thornbury make Ireland’s summer squad

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Connacht second row Gavin Thornbury who is hoping for another big display against Munster in Thomond Park tonight (Friday).

BY DECLAN ROONEY

ROLL back the clock to the start of March and Connacht lock Gavin Thornbury delivered his best performance in the green shirt against Munster. Tonight (Friday) he is back at Thomond Park and hoping to leave with a victory instead of a player of the match medal.

The Connacht second row was inspired that night. A couple of blocked kicks, a stolen lineout and two turnovers were the standout stats, but the 20-17 loss was excruciating. The after-match photos and interviews suggest as much too.

Three wins in a row had set Andy Friend’s side up nicely for that trip to Limerick, but this week Connacht are instead chewing on a 50-21 reversal at home to Leinster last weekend. The mood in the camp is a mix of disappointment and hunger to get back on the pitch, and Thornbury just wants to copy and paste his last Thomond Park performance.

“Yeah it was good. A lot of things came off for me that day that mightn’t come off on another night. Obviously I was fully gutted with the result, I thought we put ourselves in a position where we could have won the game, unfortunately it didn’t come through. Personally, some stuff came off that I was really happy with, but there is lots for us to keep working on,” said Thornbury, who will make his 20th appearance this season.

“Going away to Thomond you have to do it for 80 minutes, if you don’t do it for 80 minutes it’s going to be a long night. That’s where we need to get our heads right, it is all about attitude at the end of the day.

“It’s wanting to stop the bloke in front of you. That’s what it comes down to mostly. Look it is a challenge, it’ll be a massive challenge and a massive opportunity for us to get ourselves right.

“I think you can have all the technical aspects of maul defence, but at the end of the day you have to want to put your head somewhere it probably shouldn’t be. That’s what we have to do.

“We talked a good bit about it this morning. Our meetings were obviously tough, the review was tough, but we have got to park it and make sure we bring the attitude first and foremost this Friday.”

Earlier this week there was confirmation that his second row partner Quinn Roux will leave the province at the end of the season, and Thornbury thanked the Ireland international for helping him settle at the province when he arrived back in 2017.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Home misery continues for Utd as Bray pounce late

Keith Kelly

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Galway United’s Shane Duggan tussling for possession with Conor Clifford of Bray Wanderers during Friday's First Division clash at Eamonn Deacy Park. Photo Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Galway United 1

Bray Wanderers 2

Keith Kelly at Eamonn Deacy Park

WELL now, the wheels aren’t coming off just yet, but they are certainly starting to wobble enough to cause concern as Galway United conceded an injury-time winner to Bray Wanderers last Friday night to extend their winless run at home to six matches.

Once again, United were made to pay for sloppy, lazy defending, and unless they sort that out fairly lively, a side with aspirations of not only challenging for promotion, but of winning the title outright, can park those dreams for another year.

That is now just three points from their first four home games of the season as United look a pale shadow of the side that stormed up the table last season after the appointment of John Caulfield, going from also-rans to making it all the way to the First Division play-off final.

A similar charge was expected this season, but instead United are delivering the kind of results that got Caulfield the job in the first place, thanks to the sacking of Alan Murphy. It is true that they are ‘just’ six points off top spot, but the fact they have won just once on the pitch so far is a cause for concern.

The attractive brand of attacking play that brought them to the play-off final last season seems to have been abandoned for a more direct approach. It has worked just once, against Cobh Ramblers a fortnight ago, and maybe the style of play needs to be revisited, as there is no point having midfield playmakers in the side if the ball is going to regularly bypass them.

That said, it is not all doom and gloom, and had a couple of breaks gone their way late in the first-half, then the talk all week would have been of United stomping their authority over a so-called title rival and looking forward to a turkey shoot against whipping boys Wexford FC this Friday.

Ruairi Keating hit the woodwork, Carlton Ubaezuonu hit the woodwork, and Shane Duggan blazed high and wide from no more than eight yards out, but when it’s not your night, it’s not your night, and there is a shelf-life to how long you can hold on to those kind of comforts.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

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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

Connacht suffer a mauling at hands of driven Leinster

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Connacht’s Tom Daly leading this charge against Leinster in Saturday's Rainbow Cup encounter at the Sportsground. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Connacht 21

Leinster 50

Rob Murphy at the Sportsground

A gut punch in a season full of them. Leinster came to Galway in no mood for nonsense and reacted to a messy start with the kind of controlled rage that has come to define this fixture in Galway over the last four years.

This was power and precision crushing pluck and passion and it was hard not to look away after Cian Kelleher cantered home for the Dublin based side’s fifth first half try to rub salt in the many wounds Connacht had suffered to that point.

Moan all you like about the budgets and the schools system and the sheer size of the Leinster squad, they made ten changes to the side that had lost comprehensively in La Rochelle a week previously, resting numerous front liners and yet could still field a side packed full of internationals and 2021 British and Irish Lions. That’s a fine excuse for the latest mess Connacht find themselves in, but it doesn’t really go to explain the manner of the first half implosion here.

Let’s work through some facts. They won’t make for happy reading so let’s at least reassure you that further down towards the end, there are some positives to be rescued from this outing, players who continue to make good progress and reasons to be hopeful. To get to that point though we need to face up to the harsh reality of this defeat.

Connacht actually led early in this game. In the opening 15 minutes they converted three penalties through the boot of Conor Fitzgerald and notched an opportune try from Caolin Blade. They were lively and aggressive and had Leinster at sixes and sevens for what in hindsight seems to have been only a few minutes, but at the time felt like the beginnings of another big effort akin to the previous outing when Andy Friend’s side beat Ulster in Ravenhill at the end of last month.

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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