Connacht Rugby are delighted to announce the signings of Australian 7s player Ben O’Donnell and Bay of Plenty Number 8 Abraham Papali’i.
 
The pair will link up with the squad before the start of the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 season.
 
Ben O’Donnell joins from the Australian Sevens programme, having played 95 matches for his country since he was handed his debut in 2017 under Andy Friend. The 24-year old went on to score 47 tries in that time and has been a key figure in their progression through the World Rugby Seven Series over the past three seasons.
 
O’Donnell was voted Australian Sevens Player of the year in 2018 and subsequently went on to be the first Australian player ever nominated for the World Sevens Player of the Year.
 
New Zealander Abraham Papali’i arrives from Bay of Plenty where he was a key member of the squad that won the Mitre 10 Cup Championship last year. The Auckland-born duel code player started his Rugby Union career with North Harbour before being recruited into the New Zealand Warriors (Rugby League) pathway. In 2015 Papali’i signed a two year contract with the Sydney Roosters of the Australian National Rugby League (NRL).
 
Following his time with the Roosters, Papali’i joined Lézignan Sangliers in the premier French Rugby League competition before the 6’4” number 8 returned to New Zealand and successfully restarted his Rugby Union career with Bay of Plenty.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says today’s announcement is a significant boost ahead of the return to rugby.
 
“I am delighted to welcome Ben and Abraham to Connacht Rugby.
 
I got to know Ben very well on the Australian Sevens scene. It did not surprise me that he went on to become such an important player for them and I am thrilled that he has chosen to join Connacht.
 
Abraham is a powerful number 8 who has all the attributes to become a really valuable player for us while furthering our options in the back row. I know every Connacht supporter will be excited to see what he can offer.”

 
Friend expressed his excitement about the announcement and what the squad can achieve in the upcoming season.
 
“Today’s announcement comes on the back of discussions that started a number of months ago and we are delighted to eventually be able to share this exciting news with all of our supporters today.
 
These signings bring our squad up to 43 players for next season. We have freshened up and added depth to our squad in a number of key areas, having signed a healthy blend of young exciting players who have come through our Academy system as well as bringing in some additional quality and experience from further afield.
 
We are an ambitious group and I firmly believe we have all the tools we need to kick on to the next level and achieve success in what is going to be a really exciting season.”

Connacht Rugby are excited to confirm that Alex Wootton has joined the club on a loan deal from Munster until the end of the 2020-21 season.
 
Wootton first made his Munster debut in September 2016 and has gone on to make 39 appearances for the province, scoring 13 tries in the process.
 
The 25-year old can play anywhere across the back three and has been capped for Ireland at Sevens and U20 level.
 
Wootton has linked up with the Connacht squad this week during the first week of pre-season training at the Sportsground, as preparations begin for the planned Guinness PRO14 interpro derbies at the end of August.
 
Commenting on today’s announcement, Head Coach Andy Friend says Wootton’s arrival will further strengthen Connacht’s back field options for the new season.
 
“I am really pleased to welcome Alex Wootton to the province. Alex is a very exciting back three player who has all the talent to take his game to the next level. His versatility across the back line will also help us as we look to compete on both fronts next season. As a Team, we’re looking forward to welcoming him to the Sportsground and integrating him into the playing squad.”
 
Alex Wootton says he is thrilled to sign for the club ahead of the new campaign.
 
“I am delighted to be joining Connacht Rugby for the upcoming season. After speaking to Andy and the rest of the coaching team it’s clear that this is a team full of ambition and belief, and I want to play my part in that. I can’t wait to meet the rest of the squad and begin preparations for what I’m sure will be a very exciting season.”

After over 100 days off-site, the first three groups of pro players returned to the Sportsground today to commence pre-season training ahead of the Return to Rugby.
 
Three groups of seven players, with one Strength & Conditioning coach assigned to them, began staggered training sessions at the Sportsground Gym while adhering to strict guidelines around hygiene and social distancing.
 
Among the three groups were new arrivals Sammy Arnold, Conor Oliver, Oisin Dowling and Jack Aungier, as well as a number or players who have been promoted from the Connacht Academy.
 
Check out some of the best pics below.
 

The IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) can confirm that the PCR testing of players and staff at Connacht and Ulster produced zero positive results. 118 players and staff were tested on Wednesday 24th June in Connacht and Ulster.
 
The PCR testing was carried out by Cork based company Advanced Medical Services on behalf of the IRFU.
 
The staff and players have been cleared to access their respective High Performance Centres from Monday 29th June.
 
From the 29th June all four provincial senior squads will be back training in modified groups.
 
To date there have been 258 tests conducted across the professional player and staff group and zero positive tests reported.
 
IRFU Medical Director Rod McLoughlin commented, “The first phase of PCR testing has been successfully completed. The players and staff now enter a period of daily medical screening and assessment. The second phase of testing will take place as players return to contact.”

Saturday, August 22 has been selected as a target date for the 2019/20 Guinness PRO14 season to restart across all five competing territories.
 
The target date was agreed at the PRO14 Board meeting on Tuesday (June 9) based upon the information currently available from each jurisdiction in which the Guinness PRO14 is played. Since announcing an indefinite suspension of match action in March, the tournament team at PRO14 Rugby has worked alongside key medical personnel at our unions and clubs as well as key stakeholders such as World Rugby to map out a return to action.
 
With rigorous protocols outlined for training, game-day logistics and match play, PRO14 Rugby is confident that proposals submitted by our unions to governments across the UK, Ireland, Italy and South Africa will allow our teams get back on the pitch. Discussions around these proposals will be on-going between each union and their respective governments.
 
Abbreviated Format
 
The 2019/20 season will have an abbreviated finish that features the most attractive match-ups and rivalries from the Guinness PRO14 with two rounds of derby games in each territory counting towards final positions. This will cut the regular season from 21 game rounds to 15. Games postponed prior to the indefinite suspension will be deemed 0-0 draws as previously stated by PRO14 Rugby on February 28, 2020.
 
The postponed Round 13 fixtures Zebre Rugby Club v Ospreys and Benetton Rugby v Ulster have now been deemed 0-0 draws and all four teams will have two points added to their totals as a result. The updated tables can be viewed at www.pro14.rugby/match-centre/table/2020
 
Derby rounds in Italy, Scotland and South Africa will see the two teams from each territory play back-to-back fixtures. The derby fixtures for the teams in Ireland and Wales have yet to be confirmed and will be announced in line with kick-off times and broadcast selections.
 
The season will be concluded across four consecutive weekends with the Guinness PRO14 Final targeted for Saturday, September 12. The two teams which finish top of their conferences will qualify for a semi-final stage in order to compete for places in the Final. PRO14 Rugby will consider the latest information in the territories that knock-out games could take place before making a final decision on the venue(s).
 
Tournament Director Comment
 
David Jordan, Tournament Director of the Guinness PRO14, said: “Safety has been, and will continue to be, the highest priority as we look to activate our plans to restart the 2019/20 season. We are very fortunate to be in a position where everyone involved is confident that we can conclude the season on the field of play.
 
“The work and diligence of our leading medical personnel at our unions, our clubs, World Rugby and key stakeholders to get us to this point has been immense. Operating across five territories often brings different complexities to the Guinness PRO14 but our unions have worked hard to bring proposals to their governments so we may put plans into action.”
 
Proposed Game Rounds
 
Round 14: Saturday, August 22
Round 15: Saturday, August 29
Semi-Finals: Saturday, September 5
Final: Saturday, September 12
 
Venues, Timings & Cross-border Travel
 
When venues across all five territories are agreed upon, consultations will begin with broadcast partners and all key stakeholders around suitable kick-off times. The respective unions involved in the Guinness PRO14 are in continued discussion with their relative authorities and governments regarding travel protocols and protective measures.
 
Health and safety protocols in relation to Covid-19
 
An overview of all the health and safety protocols and protective measures that will be put in place to prevent and mitigate the threat of Covid-19 will be published in due course. At that time tournament representatives will be made available to the media.
 
European Qualification & 2020/21 Season
 
PRO14 Rugby has agreed that rankings for European qualification for the 2020/21 season will be decided on the Conference table positions from Round 13. This will include the points awarded to teams whose postponed games in Round 13 have been deemed 0-0 draws. Once the competition formats for the 2020/21 season have been announced by EPCR then PRO14 Rugby will confirm its qualifying teams for the Heineken Champions Cup.
 
The 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 Season
 
Planning for the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 season has begun, October 3 has been identified as the provisional date for Round 1.

Eoin McKeon played 137 times for Connacht Rugby across a 10 year period beginning in 2010.
 
A local boy who came through the Connacht grassroots system, McKeon was also a starter in the 2016 Guinness PRO14 Grand Final and saw huge change at the club both on and off the field.
 
Connachtrugby.ie spoke to Eoin in the last few weeks about his time at the club and what the future holds.
 

 
Eoin firstly I would like to start by asking, how are you? It’s been a couple of months since COVID began and the suspension of rugby so how have you been the last couple of months?
 
I think it’s strange for everyone. Since the Taoiseach made the first announcement, we haven’t been on-site in The Sportsground. I think everyone including my family dealt quite well with it, there isn’t much any of us can do as it is out of our control. I have been trying to keep as busy as possible and keep ticking over in terms of training. We still have been able to get out and do a bit of exercise. I am making do with the gym equipment that was lent out to us at the start of lockdown and mentally trying to keep on top of everything. Overall, it’s been okay.
 
We were in South Africa near the end of February, we went straight into a break after that trip and had 10 days off. We were only back 1 day after that break and the announcement was made for everything to shut down. So, it’s been a long time since we played a game of rugby and been together as a group fully. It’s strange as you wouldn’t get that long of a break ever, I think the last time I had 3 months away from a rugby environment was before I left school.
 
When you were adjusting to the new norm of training from home did you enjoy it at first or did it get harder as the days went by?
 
I did enjoy it, it’s nice to get a change of scenery where you are not in the same place day after day. At the start, we were able to go to some of the local pitches, until lockdown got a bit tighter, which meant I then started running within the 5km of my house. It’s been enjoyable in general trying to adapt to the new conditions, it’s not ideal being away from the group and have everything shutdown, I am sure there are a lot of people who are a lot worse off than us, we are all counting our blessings that we are healthy and safe. Other than that, the first week or two took a bit of adjusting to but then it became the new norm. It will probably be weird going back to whatever it is the team does next, I won’t obviously be back at the summer but the lads going back in will find it hard to adjust and get back into a routine.
 
I’m sure it’s disappointing for yourself and the lads that you didn’t get a proper send-off at The Sportsground, but let’s go back to the first time you stepped foot in Connacht Rugby either as a PRO player or your first time as a fan?
 
My earliest memories would come from being a fan, I lived in a house that overlooked the main pitch in the green on College Road. From the time I was a baby until 5 years of age I lived in that house and then moved up the road. I have always been very close to The Sportsground. My parents would have been big supporters of Galwegians initially, then when the Celtic League and the Interpros became more prominent we naturally became big supporters of Connacht. The home club will always be Galwegians but as the professional game grew more, we started swaying more towards those games. I did everything from being a ball boy to selling programmes when I was younger. As I started playing a bit more, I entered the academy during school and then signed an academy contract coming out of school, that was the path I was on. I was always inspired to play with Connacht and go on to play professional rugby. As a fan, I didn’t think that far ahead in terms of what it took to go ahead and play fully professional, it was more of a pipe dream. Then as I got a bit older the path to get there became more concrete and clearer.
 
So because of your allegiance with Connacht growing up, that first time you took to the pitch on your debut must have been a pretty special feeling, what are your memories about it?
 
I think it was an away game to Scarlets, it was around the time a couple of games had been postponed due to weather, I think there was a week where the squad was playing Friday, Wednesday and Saturday. The Saturday was a game against Toulon, it was a pretty big game, I think it was a Semi-Final of the Challenge Cup at the time, I had just turned 18 and managed to get on the team on an away trip to Scarlets. The results weren’t too favourable for us, but I was delighted to get out, I had 40 minutes off the bench which I was delighted with. It’s a long time ago now.
 
Over the last 10 years you would have seen a huge amount of change in the organization both on and off the field, other than the PRO12 win in 2016 are there any other memories that stand out?
 
I spoke with Andy earlier and he was asking me similar questions. The PRO12 in 2016 is always up there but more personal ones would be signing my first full pro contract under Eric at the time. That was a pretty big deal, the following year we played Biarritz in the Heineken cup and getting a scalp over them at home. I remember that game as being a turning point for the club in the sense that we were in the biggest competition in Europe and able to get good results like that. That was a real standout moment, for where the club was going. There was momentum building for a couple of years, it would have been sad to not have gone and won something at that level. I was delighted that we were able to do it and win the PRO12 in 2016.
 
Since we are now on the 4th anniversary of that historic win in 2016, TG4 showed it a couple of weeks ago, had you watched it much before then or did you watch it on the night?
 
Shamelessly enough, I hadn’t watched that game back. We went straight into celebrations after and from that into holidays and before we knew it, we were back into a new season. Generally, you are not going back looking at games in a new season. Even though I had it recorded I had only seen little clips and snippets of try’s but had never sat down to watch the full game again. So, it was good to go back and watch it a couple of weeks ago on TG4 and relive that moment.
 
Were there particular moments that you watched back and thought god I forgot that happened?
 
It’s funny, any time you play a game what you think happened on the pitch is different to when you go and watch it on video. The perspective or view in general of what you are watching changes massively when you are playing to when you are watching it. There was a lot of stuff I had forgotten and certain moments that were huge pivot points in the game. There was one thing I wanted to see, I had popped a rib around ten minutes in, I was tackled by Mike Ross and I always wondered how I got twisted in the tackle. Then after seeing it I thought that did it alright.
 
Looking to the future Eoin, everyone knows you as the Eoin McKeon on the field but what about the Eoin McKeon off the field. What kind of areas do you see yourself working in the future? I know you’re involved in the RPI which people may not know about you.
 
I always try to stay relatively active off the field. I finished college back in 2014 and then myself and two of the other guys got involved in a start-up hub in Galway called the Portershed. A few us got involved with companies there through investment, I thought it would lead to more hands-on work, but it didn’t materialise. But it was great to get the experience, I then went back to college to do a business masters to keep myself ticking over. I was involved with two charities in Galway, 100 Men, and the Lifes2good foundation. That is how I keep myself mentally occupied off the pitch. With Rugby Players Ireland I had the opportunity to be a representative and sit on the board for the last 3 years. The experience I have gotten off that alone from dealing with Simon, Deirdre, and players from other provinces has been massive. I have always enjoyed doing stuff like that, the tech industry is standing out to me most of all as something quite appealing and something I am interested in. The only thing I can control now is what I am doing off the pitch. With the state of the virus now it is something I can’t control, that is why I am putting the focus on my career whether it be off the pitch and on the pitch. I will be making the right choice for me going forward whether it is something in tech or something else.
 
You touched on something important there in terms of rugby players making sure they are prepared and in a really good position to carry on and do something they like when their career ends. It is good to hear that you put so much emphasis on that the last few years.
 
It was always known that you are only one injury away from retirement. Luckily, I didn’t have a career-ending injury but I tried to do as much as I could to have myself as well prepared as possible for when the day came. It’s always going to be a bit of a shock no matter how well prepared you are, at the end of the day you are still moving profession, club or country, it is still going to be a big change no matter what way you look at it. You are going to have to do it at some stage, that’s why it is so important for lads to do as much as they can, so the transition is that bit easier. I am lucky in the sense that I have no kids, it’s just my girlfriend and me, but down the line, some guys retire with 3 or 4 kids which is another pressure they have on themselves to go in and find a job straight away after rugby. I am comfortable where I am, and it is exciting times.
 
If you look ahead to 10 or 20 years and your future sons or daughters are asking you what it was like to have played for Connacht, what would you say to them when you look back on the 10 years in Connacht?
 
I am full of pride; it was my boyhood club growing up. As a teenager or child, I never thought that I would have gone on and played for Connacht. It’s a club that I have no doubt are going to get to the top of their game again and go on to win more trophies. Where it’s being steered now from the coaches to S&C, the medical staff, I think they are doing a great job with what they have there. The game is getting more and more professional and competitive. I don’t see why any kid coming up through the Connacht system couldn’t achieve or strive to play for Connacht.
 
Finally, Eoin, it’s disappointing that the fans weren’t able to give you a proper send-off at the end of the season, hopefully, that will transpire next season when we have fans back at games again. Would there be any message that you have for the Connacht fans?
 
I have always felt very welcome at Connacht even though it’s where I am from. I have only ever got positive messages from the fans, who have always been unbelievable support. It must be said that the people of Connacht are extremely warm. They stuck with us through the tough times and I have been through a lot of tough times with this club. It was nice to be able to reward them with good times when they were there. I have nothing but thanks and love for all the fans here at Connacht.
 
Lastly, I would like to thank all the coaches I have worked with and the staff behind the scenes. Everyone has been unbelievably helpful. I am very appreciative of all the opportunities I have been given through Connacht Rugby. It is something I will cherish forever.

Connacht Rugby can confirm the 16 players who have so far been named in the Connacht Academy squad for the 2020/21 season.
 
Eight players will join the Year 1 programme, five of whom are Connacht-born and were part of the Connacht squad that won the U18 Club Interprovincial Championship in 2018.
 
They are Donnacha Byrne, Hubert Costello, Eoin De Buitléar, Cathal Forde and captain Darragh Murray.
 
Joining them in Year 1 is prop Charlie Ward, lock Cian Prendergast and back row Ciaran Booth.
 
Oisín McCormack and Shane Jennings, who also featured in the U18 squad of 2018, move to Year 2 of the Academy along with Declan Adamson.
 
Year 3 features local boys Colm De Buitléar, who has recovered from a serious achilles injury he sustained last summer, and U20 Grand Slam winner Dylan Tierney-Martin.
 
They’re joined by Oran McNulty – who started at full-back in all three of this year’s U20 Six Nations games for Ireland – as well as Joshua Dunne and Seán O’Brien.
 
Further additions may be confirmed in the coming months.
 
Year 1
Donnacha Byrne
Ciaran Booth
Hubert Costello
Eoin De Buitlear
Cathal Forde
Darragh Murray
Cian Prendergast
Charlie Ward

Year 2
Declan Adamson
Shane Jennings
Oisin McCormack

Year 3
Colm De Buitlear
Joshua Dunne
Oran McNulty
Seán O’Brien
Dylan Tierney-Martin

The IRFU are now in a position to add a ‘Competition Stage’ to their Return To Rugby Guidelines For Clubs.
 
This is to allow clubs to plan and work towards the start of the 2020/21 season and the playing of rugby matches.
 
September has been given as the month in which rugby matches will be permitted to return for clubs.
 
Given the changing nature of the reopening of society and the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a specific date will not be issued until further clarity is available and will remain subject to change.
 
The given date will also factor in a minimum window of five weeks permitted for contact training ahead of a return to rugby matches.
 
The Competition Stage is the final stage in the summary roadmap of the IRFU Return To Rugby Guidelines. All clubs are currently in the COVID-19 Safety Planning Stage, which they must complete before moving to the resumption of training at any level.
 
The IRFU are working toward a modified season for 2020/21. The governing body recognises concerns over travel, safety and expense and this will be reflected in the season’s structure. Clubs should expect that games at the start of the season will be kept local where practicable.
 
Further detail on the structure of the season will also be issued in due course.
 
The IRFU Return To Rugby Guidelines For Clubs are available at https://www.irishrugby.ie/running-your-club/return-to-rugby-for-clubs
 
Speaking about the announcement, Chair of the IRFU Rugby Committee Greg Barrett said:
 
“This is another welcome step in our return to rugby. There is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes in clubs at present as they put Health & Safety plans in place to manage the risk of COVID-19. This announcement helps give us all something to work towards.
 
“It’s important for rugby players to have competitive sport to look forward to and they deserve to know that our return to rugby guidelines are built around their welfare.
 
“We will provide further clarity on what the 2020/21 season will look like, but what we can say is that the first matches permitted will keep travel to a minimum.
 
“This should help with concerns around travel, but our hope is that this will also serve as an opportunity for the rugby community to support their clubs and help generate some much needed cash-flow.
 
“For now, I would urge clubs to continue to focus on completing the COVID-19 Safety Planning Stage of our guidelines and availing of the education & training supports that the IRFU have put in place. That is ultimately what will lead to the resumption of rugby as we know it.”

After a professional career spanning 13 years, Tom McCartney has called time on his playing career.
 
The New Zealander joined Connacht in 2014 and made over 100 appearances across his six-year stint at the club, which included a Guinness PRO12 winners’ medal in 2016.
 
Unfortunately the postponement of the current season meant McCartney and the rest of the departing players were unable to get a proper Sportsground send-off from the Connacht faithful.
 
Instead connachtrugby.ie caught up with Tom from his New Zealand home about his career, a hectic final few months, and his plans for the future.
 

 
First off Tom, tell us what the last few months have been like for you?
 
It’s been a huge change, there was a lot of uncertainty. Initially when the COVID cases were starting to get bad all around Europe and then towards Ireland, the wife and the kids packed up and went back to New Zealand.
 
It was a little bit up in the air about how serious it could be and if the country got bad it could shut down for 6 months to a year, and the last thing I wanted was to be locked away from my family that long, especially when it looked like we wouldn’t get back playing for some time. Andy Friend was a really good help so I managed to get out on the last flight Emirates was flying before they grounded all their planes.
 
When I arrived back to New Zealand it was at the stage of a level 4 lockdown for the first month that I was here. I wasn’t allowed leave the house at all for 2 weeks because I had travelled from overseas. I had to stay at the property that I was residing at and other people had to do the food shopping for me. I was lucky to have come back to 2 weeks of fantastic weather, which made it more bearable
 
I was staying at my dad’s house where there is a lime tree orchard, there was plenty of work to be done which made the experience easier. Out in the sun in the lime tree orchard is my happy place away from rugby, which meant the time flew by.
 
There must have been a lot of feelings going through your mind. Obviously you were relieved to get back to your family in New Zealand but that must have meant everything happening very fast for you.
 
It was a mad rush. We were selling our house and had just put it on the market which didn’t turn out to be the best timing! Once the wife and kids left, I was going to stay until the end of the contract until June. Once we got told that I was allowed to go home I had two days to pack up everything and do a couple of trips to the dump and gave away as much stuff as I could to a good home. I had to get the house emptied and ready for someone else to move into it. That took up all my time on the last two days, everyone was restricted and could not leave their house at that stage.
 
In terms of the goodbyes I only got to say goodbye to a couple of people briefly, that was the biggest shame, not being able to have a proper goodbye especially with your teammates of 6 years and then you are just gone without a proper goodbye. It was difficult and not how I imagined it, but I am pretty determined to come back to Galway in the next couple of years and catch up with as many people as I can to reminisce on the good times.
 
How do you reflect on your 6 years in Connacht? You must look back on them with huge fond memories?
 
I wasn’t sure how it was going to go when I first came over, I was 29 going on 30 and initially signed for 3 years which would take me through to 32. At that stage I was going to weigh up whether it was a good time to retire or carry on.
 
After enjoying my first 3 years it was a no brainer to sign on for another 3 years and finish out my career there. It was an amazing time and it has changed a lot all the way through, but that’s how rugby works, one place is never the same, the team is never the same and the coaches change.
 
I would say one thing that stayed the same is that it has always been a humble group who work hard for each other. Because of that, no one is bigger than the team and it builds a strong team spirit. One of our mantras in defence is to never give up which is the attitude that everyone has, and it is one thing that I have enjoyed.
 
Now chatting on memories over the past 6 years, everyone involved in 2016 will mention that win as being a highlight but are there any other games that stands out?
 
One of my fondest memories would be arriving in 2014 when we played at home against Munster. It was lashing rain and my first introduction to PRO12 rugby against a Munster team that was pretty stacked especially in the forwards with the likes of Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony both there.
 
It was a horrible night to be a hooker and throwing the ball into the lineout, but we did well especially against the likes of that competition. We gave 100 percent that night and ended up winning the game, we held them off on our goal line right on full time.
 
I think anyone who was at the game would remember it fondly, they got soaked and it was freezing, for me, being from New Zealand it was an eye opener and a real good introduction to European rugby. I certainly felt like I had made a good mark to start my Connacht journey on that night. We celebrated well after that win and there were a lot of happy fans that night. I can still remember the singing when I was coming off the field.
 
Let’s talk about the 2016 final. Have you had a chance to watch it back in the last four years?
 
I watched it when I came back to New Zealand that year after we had won it, but I have not watched it since. I have seen a few highlights here and there; Matt Healy’s try tends to pop up quite a lot when AJ MacGinty put the grubbar through for him which sealed it for us. The game becomes a bit of a blur when you look back on it, the things you do remember are things like the airport afterwards with all the Connacht fans travelling back, getting back to Knock airport and it being jammed.
 
We had to delay the bus for a while because they had a stage set up, the parade through Galway city and back at The Sportsground. Considering the population of the province it was huge to witness that amount of people coming out to celebrate with us, it was special. I won things with different teams with much bigger populations but never seen that level of celebration from a region. It shows how much everyone got behind us and how much it meant to everyone around the province.
 
Looking towards the future of Tom McCartney, what plans do you have and what will you be getting up to?
 
The plan was always to get back to New Zealand. We had 6 great years in Galway, my wife and I arrived newly married and we went back with a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. Life has changed since we were last in New Zealand, both kids were born in the Galway University hospital, we will always have great memories of that. In a way, it is good time to be transitioning for the kids because my son has just started primary school last week. He is going to the same primary school that I attended when I was a young fellow.
 
For myself, I am getting into a career in real estate, so the last 6 weeks has allowed me to get a start on that. I am working a lot from home, but I am also allowed to go into the office for a bit and try and learn the trade. The funny thing about it is you play rugby for 15 years and work your way up to different levels of it and by the end of it your pretty experienced. When you start a new job, you are straight down the bottom and you must earn your stripes again.
 
One of the exciting things is there is a huge amount to learn which is a good challenge and in a way, it is like when you are starting in rugby, it boils down to how much effort you put in. I have always been self-driven which is a good trait to have, how much effort you put in directly correlates to how fast you learn and how well you end up doing.
 
Was preparing for post-rugby life something you were very conscious of, especially in the last few years?
 
It was always on the back of my mind, my focus when I was playing rugby was to play rugby as well as I could. From a financial standpoint I always had it in my head that when you start you are a young guy and compared to your friends who aren’t playing rugby you are earning good money. If you are lucky you end playing for 10 years and you are on decent money compared to your mates.
 
You have got make sure you are as far ahead as possible by the end of that 10 years because your friends will have been in a working environment for the past 10 years working their way up to a good level and you are starting again from the bottom. If you don’t take advantage of earning good money at a young age, being smart with it by saving and investing your money in different things you are going to come out at the end of it look back and see it as a wasted opportunity.
 
I was adamant when it came to budgeting, looking at different things I could do investment wise to try set myself up as well as I possibly could. When rugby inevitably does come to an end, I made sure I wasn’t going to be in a position where I had to run out and find a job in case I was going to starve. That gives you the freedom to take time to choose something you are passionate about and want to do rather than having to slave away at something you don’t enjoy.
 
I have been lucky to find a job quickly and find a job in area that I am interested in. Property has always been my second love as a rugby player and is something that I always turned to when trying to invest in things and leverage my earnings as a young player on good money.
 
Would you like to be coaching in the future or get involved with your local club or are you happy to move on?
 
In the future I would like to do something. It’s tricky at the moment while I am starting a new career, as I said before what you put into it directly correlates to what you get out of it especially when you are starting out and you are trying to build your reputation and learn as much as you can. Between that and working in some capacity almost 7 days a week along with a young family, if I was off down the local rugby club in my spare time, I am not sure how family life would handle that.
 
For the next year or so I will be getting myself up to speed with the career and after that I may have a more time and be able to manage it better. I am extremely grateful for all the coaches I have learned off down through the years and for the volunteers that weren’t doing it at a professional level. I feel obliged to pass the torch on to try and help the young guys who have got the passion and drive to excel in the sport and get to the next level.
 
Last question for you, it is disappointing that our fans couldn’t give you a proper send off, so is there anything you would like to say to the Connacht fans?
 
I would like to say thanks to the fans for welcoming my wife and I into the province and to Galway. It’s a special place, our kids were born there. There’s nothing better than walking along the prom after a good win with a coffee and you end up stopping and chatting with lots people you may or may not know, that’s the way the place is. Everyone is welcoming and friendly, it is a second home for us. One thing that will ring out in my mind for the rest of my life is listening to The Fields of Athenry when you walk off that field after a good win. You cannot beat that, it was awesome.

Connacht Rugby partners, Clubforce, are hosting a Webinar on Wednesday 10th June on the topic of ‘Fundraising in a Virtual World’, something that has become very relevant over the last few months.
 
Clubforce would like to share their wealth of experience and support in this area with all Connacht Clubs. We encourage a member of your club to attend online to gain some invaluable knowledge for future fundraising.
 
Clubforce: Fundraising in a Virtual World Webinar
Date: Wednesday 10th June
Time: 7 PM
Registration link: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/7314591670880317196
 
“While some clubs have frozen their fundraising activity and are waiting for “things to return to normal”, more and more clubs are recognising that we will have to adjust to a new normal and are accelerating their online fundraising efforts in anticipation of a return to sports participation in the near future. The old reliable ways of fundraising through in-person, cash-based fundraisers have become a thing of the past”.
 
“Clubforce offers clubs the flexibility to handle virtually any fundraising effort with ease online. We provide a range of alternative ways of generating revenue for your club from members and supporters at home and abroad. All fundraising activity is made easier with the Clubforce app, designed to make it easier to raise funds and manage member data from one complete club management system”.
 
In this webinar, Clubforce will look at
– Examples of current Club fundraisers on our system
– Communicating with your members with new fundraisers
– How to utilise the Clubforce App to promote sales

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