On and off-the-field adversity has helped to steel Head Coach Friend

New Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend pictured ahead of last Saturday's PRO14 encounter against Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsgrounds.
New Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend pictured ahead of last Saturday's PRO14 encounter against Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsgrounds.

Talking Sport with Stephen Glennon

CONNACHT may have begun the season with a frustrating single-point defeat to Glasgow Warriors in their opening PRO14 league game at the Sportsground last Saturday, but if there is one person who can change a negative into a positive it is new Head Coach Andy Friend.

With almost a quarter of a century of coaching experience, Friend has been involved in the game long enough to know one loss, especially one at the outset of the campaign, does not have to define a season. What it does offer, however, is an opportunity to turn an adverse situation into victory. That is his philosophy, not only in sport but in life as well.

It is a philosophy fostered out of experience and if there is one landmark moment in his life that stands out on a personal level it is the manner in which he had to respond when his wife, Kerri Rawlings, came off her bike and suffered a serious brain injury in 2011.

Taking a year out of the game, Friend thought one way of aiding Kerri’s recovery was to go on a journey – one like no other – and, so, he dusted off his bike and decided to cycle from Cooktown to Canberra along the Bicentennial National Trail to raise awareness for Brain Injury Australia and Outward Bound.

That cycle, by the way, covered 5,000km – and raised almost 170,000 Australian dollars – and, as you’d expect, Friend found out a little bit more about himself when it was just him and the open road.

“Ah, I did. If I honestly stop and think about the two most informative things in developing Andy Friend the person, one was my ‘Outward Bound’ experience, which is where I met my wife and which was taking people out in the Bush, and the second thing was the bike ride,” he states.

“So, it was 93 days on a bike, pretty much by yourself the whole time. The reason I did it was for my wife, to help her get through the brain injury that she had. We had great support and we raised some good money for the two charities, which was brilliant.

“To physically do that though was great but more important it was about the change I saw in my wife from ‘Day 1’ to ‘Day 93’ and that is why she is the person she is today in my honest belief.”

Both, no doubt, got a great deal from the experience. Kerri is in good health now and Friend, himself, added another layer to his personal development. On the bike, he had a chance to re-evaluate his own career and life and thought about where he wanted to take his own journey next.

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

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