Behind every good man is a good woman, so the saying goes; for Dave O’Brien later this winter he’ll have the benefit of about 30.

Men around the world may take issue with “benefit” above as an appropriate noun, but Connacht Rugby’s new coach is convinced it’s a winning formula.

Announced in late June, O’Brien’s posting comes after the premature departure of 2011 debutante Colm Power whose career prompted a move to the farflung reaches of Ireland’s southeast. In the wild wesht however O’Brien steps into a role which – arguably for the first time – marks a watershed moment in womens’ rugby history here in Connacht.

The emergence of Sligo and Buccaneers in the Connacht Development League, and burgeoning numbers at NUIG and development cup runners-up Carrick-on-Shannon’s ranks have yielded an unprecedented local player base, and one, on the balance of individual talent, is as competitive as its domestic counterparts. Lest we forget Galwegians’ heroics in winning the All Ireland Cup last season.

O’Brien is looking forward to the campaign with palpable enthusiasm.

“It’s great to see so many players now coming through Connacht structures. With more involvement and competitions the quality is continually rising and this is not happening by itself. It’s far more a reflection of the monumental amount of work done behind the scenes by Wendy (Hickey) and Emer (O’Dowd) along with the Connacht Womens Committee to up the profile of womens rugby.”

O’Brien steps into the role from a refereeing background but has also done his fair share of coaching. Forced to retire from playing at 19 due to a back injury, he became a self-professed rugby analyst with one of the best seats in the house.

“I’ve certainly refereed a great deal of womens rugby, including interpro fixtures and AIL finals and it’s clear the standard across the board in the womens game continues to soar season after season.”

He’s refrained from offering any outlandish projections about the season coming, preferring instead to take stock of the status quo and tinker with some of the finer points.

“Connacht’s been competitive in the last two seasons. We’re no longer making up competition numbers. We’re a threat, and we’re a force to be reckoned with.

“Obviously victory will be a priority, but game-to-game and campaign-to-campaign, the key to success is improvement and maximizing the team’s potential. The trick will be to ensure that it all comes together on match day but that shouldn’t be difficult with such a motivated group.

“I am also extremely lucky to have Emer O’Dowd on board as assistant coach. She has a vast amount of experience in the game as a player, a coach and as a strength & conditioning advisor. She really knows how to bring out the best in a team”.

He praised Connacht’s most recent coaches Colm Power and Lyndon Jones for their contributions and said quite aside from on-field yardsticks he’ll measure success in terms of structural set-up off it as well.

“If I can leave the Connacht Womens situation in an even more professional and structured state than the one I entered, that too will be a success,” he said.

The 2012 Connacht interpro campaign kicks off with two open day training sessions in July for selection purposes, and culminates in a pre-Christmas interprovincial tournament. Current champions Leinster unseated long-time rivals Munster as titleholders in September 2011.


Gillian McDarby appointed IRFU Head of Women’s Performance & Pathways