Connacht Rugby and the IRFU can confirm that Kieran Keane will depart the province with immediate effect.

 

Following the announcement, Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane wished Kieran Keane well for the future: “After an assessment of the direction in which Connacht Rugby was going we have come to an agreement with Kieran Keane that he will leave the province with immediate effect. I would like to thank Kieran Keane for his efforts with Connacht Rugby this season and wish him well for the future.”

 

Commenting on the replacement process, Willie Ruane added: “In conjunction with the IRFU we will now begin the process of recruiting a new Head Coach”.

Jimmy Duffy and Matt Healy look ahead to our Challenge Cup clash v Worcester Warriors.

With a tough fixture away to Ulster coming up on Friday night, Connacht Defence Coach Peter Wilkins looks ahead to our first Interpro of the season and the challenge posed by the Ulstermen.

We have three huge home games against Worcester, Munster and Cheetahs in the coming weeks and we are offering one lucky supporter two Clan tickets to each game.

To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize, simply
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Tickets are still available to buy for these games here.


Head Coach Kieran Keane spoke to the media yesterday ahead of our visit to Scarlets on Friday night with our team being named at noon tomorrow.

On the road for our next 3 games, we are then back at home for a triple-header against Worcester Warriors (Oct 21), Munster (Oct 27) & Cheetahs (Nov 4).

Tickets available here

 

Incoming Head Coach Kieran Keane spent last week in Connacht meeting the squad and the new-look coaching and management team.

Keane will join the province following the completion of the Super Rugby season and the Chiefs Assistant Coach is eager to play his part in an exciting new era at the province.

Check out the first of our special series of interviews with the new Head Coach that we will be providing for our supporters in the coming weeks.

“The thing that came across that I really enjoyed was the aspiration that they had, that they talked about for Connacht,” said Keane.

“We want to get some very good performances that people can be proud of on the park. They (the fans) flood through the gates because it’s a champion team to watch.”

Tick Tock . . .

5pm this evening (Friday, July 7) is the deadline to purchase a Season Ticket if you wish to be included in our first delivery of Season Ticket cards next month. If you purchase before the deadline, you will have your card in time for the pre-season friendly against Bristol at the Sportsground – which is included in the Season Ticket offer.

Sign-up now to be included in the first delivery here!

Having represented the province in his playing days and managed the Academy for 13 years, Nigel Carolan knows Connacht Rugby inside out.

The Galway native also spent two years as the Ireland U20s Head Coach, so Carolan has no shortage of experience and rugby expertise and he has been delighted with the first four days of pre-season in his new role as Assistant Coach.

How are you finding your new role?

“It’s very interesting and it’s been with sort of nervous excitement. The new regime got together last week when KK (new Head Coach Kieran Keane) was over and we crammed a lot into the week. It was great to share our ideas and  expectations and what’s important to us with the new regime.

“Everyone has been aligned and there is a smile on everybody’s face. Everybody’s working really hard but enjoying the experience, which I think is most important. Guys don’t mind working and putting in the hours and the hard effort knowing that everybody is working really hard for each other and it has been very positive. The first few days have been really tough for the guys, their training volume has been particularly high but they’re enjoying that and they’re starting to see the benefits already.”

Fresh new coaching team…

“It’s inevitable in professional sport that there is always going to be change but it’s just fresh ideas, it’s new, it’s a different voice. There are no pre-conceived notions or expectations on players so starting from day one everyone is on an even keel again and with that it just brings that level of excitement.

“There is probably a new way we will be looking to play the game and the players are certainly excited by that and we’re certainly excited as coaches to be facilitating that.”

Continuity in the playing squad…

“When you get so much change happening at management and coaching level it’s important to have the core of the players remain. 80-85% of the squad is still intact and for them it’s just a new voice but it’s always good to get fresh blood in the playing group too.

“We must ensure we have a competitive squad in each position and that players are chomping at the bit to work their way up the rankings. That level of competition among the players will hopefully make us a formidable side this year.”

John Muldoon in his 15th pre-season at the province… 

“It’s like it’s his first. The attitude that he brings, he’s just so enthusiastic. He doesn’t have to say much but when he does, the guys listen. He’s enjoyed his first few days. He enjoyed meeting KK last week and seeing the road that he wants to take this team down and he’s very enthused by it so you wouldn’t think it’s his 15th pre-season.

“He’s a seasoned pro at this stage but he’s certainly leading by example and he’s enjoying his first few days back.”

Getting to know Kieran Keane…

“We had a week with him last week and we crammed a lot into it. It wasn’t all rugby, it is important that we get to know the man and find out what he’s like away from rugby and we had a couple of opportunities for that and he’s great.

“For him, the only disappointing thing was that he had to head back to New Zealand, he wanted to stay and get his teeth stuck into pre-season here. We had a Skype this morning at 7am and we filled him in on what’s happening and the mood in the camp so he’s not too far away and is keeping a close eye on things.”

Tick Tock . . .

5pm tomorrow evening (Friday, July 7) is the deadline to purchase a Season Ticket if you wish to be included in our first delivery of Season Ticket cards. If you purchase before the deadline, you will have your card in time for the pre-season friendly against Bristol at the Sportsground – which is included in the Season Ticket offer.

Sign-up now to be included in the first delivery here!

21 years on from his appointment as Connacht Rugby Head Coach, Warren Gatland is currently on his second tour leading the British and Irish Lions.

Gatland spent two very successful years at the Sportsground at the dawn of the professional era having previously coached Galwegians for five seasons.

In the third of a three-part series looking back on Gatland’s time in Connacht, this abridged extract from ‘Front Up Rise Up: The Official Story of Connacht Rugby’, sees author Gerry Thornley look back on the New Zealander’s second season at the Sportsground. Click here for The Gatland years (Part 1) and here for the Gatland Years (Part 2).

Daring To Believe

In Gatland’s second season, 1997/98, Connacht’s pre-season camp was held in the Oratory School in Reading. Aside from its sumptuous, tree-lined rugby pitches, the Oratory is noted for its rowing on the nearby Thames and for being one of only three schools in England with ‘real tennis’ courts. Connacht were moving up in the world, and Brian Ashton, then coach of Ireland, attended a couple of their training sessions.

‘The boys trained very hard, and we put a lot of effort into our fitness,’ says Gatland. ‘At the time, we still didn’t have any full-time professionals.’

Garland brought over lock Mark McConnell and flanker Junior Charlie from Taupiri. ‘At that stage, we were allowed to bring in two overseas players, and I thought they’d bring a Kiwi mentality and attitude, that a couple of forwards would be good for us. And they were great.’

McConnell masterminded an exceptional lineout, while for his part Charliebecame a totemic figure with his big carries and big hits.

Despite 29-9 and 23-6 Interprovincial defeats at home to Munster and away to Leinster, in between Connacht beat Ulster 27-12 at the Sportsground. To put this in perspective, it was Connacht’s first win over Ulster since 1983, which had been their sole win over the province since 1964. But they were again edged out of third place in the Interpro table on points difference to Ulster.

‘At that time, we were probably catching sides a little bit cold,’ says Gatland. ‘They weren’t expecting Connacht to be up to much, and yet it was tough coming to the Sportsground with the dog track and howling gales. We kind of made the most of that and tried to make it as difficult as we possibly could for anyone coming there.’

Connacht’s first game in the Challenge Cup was at home to Northampton, who had beaten them 31-11 in the Sportsground 11 months previously. Ian McGeechan left out several of his five-strong Lions’ contingent who had been part of the series-winning tour to South Africa the previous summer and only brought on Nick Beal and Gregor Townsend in the second half. Even so, few held out much hope of Connacht providing Ireland’s first win in Europe that season. But on a glorious, sun-drenched day at the Sportsground in front of a small Tuesday-afternoon crowd, Connacht beat Northampton 43-13.

‘It was a beautiful day and we were just on fire; they just didn’t know how to handle it,’ says Gatland. ‘It was pretty special.’

There had been an IRFU committee meeting scheduled for the afternoon of the Northampton game, so none of the committee members were in attendance, and after the game the call came from Lansdowne Road to the main landline in the Sportsground asking for the result.

‘It was 43-13.’

‘That’s not too bad. Sounds like Connacht put up a good fight?’

‘Eh, actually it was 43-13 to Connacht.’

‘Are you sure it wasn’t the other way around?’

‘No. Connacht won 43-13.’

‘Oh!’

A controversial defeat to Nice followed but a ground-breaking win away to Bordeaux-Begles – the first victory for an Irish side on French soil – and a home win over Nice to exact revenge put the province in a strong position.

A second win over Bordeaux meant the momentum was firmly with Gatland’s men ahead of the pool decider away to Northampton.

Connacht were not a team of all the talents but made the most of what they had, with some well-honed scoring manoeuvres. Most famously there was the 13-man lineout, whereby the forwards lined up to the front to set up a maul, and the entire back division bar the scrum-half joined in to forge an unstoppable drive.

That one had been introduced in the first season against Australia. ‘We scored off it and they were all bitching and moaning, complaining it was illegal,’ remembers Gatland. ‘But the referee said, “No, no, that’s fine.”

‘I was always looking at the rules and seeing how you could use them to your best advantage and catch teams unaware. At that stage, you could have a 13-man scrum as well if you wanted to. There was no limit to the amount an attacking team could put in the lineout. As a defending team, you couldn’t have more than the opposition.

‘We called it “psycho”, on the basis that you had to be crazy to do it,’ says Gatland.

When he first suggested it at a training session in Athlone, many of the players looked at him as if he were indeed insane, one of them asking, ‘What happens if we lose it?’

Gatland answered, ‘Well, that would be fun, wouldn’t it? That would be even more exciting than if we scored from it.’

But that never happened, and the move was well in credit over Gatland’s two seasons.

Those three successive wins set up a pool decider away to Northampton in their Franklin’s Gardens lair. This time, McGeechan’s Saints were also locked and fully loaded, with their Lions – Dawson, Townsend and Beal – all starting alongside Martin Bayfield, Budge Poutney and Ben Cohen.

Gatland’s ‘To Hell or to Connacht’ phrase had been adopted with chip-on-the-shoulder gusto by the squad and those close to them.

Connacht’s first try by prop John Maher was the poduct of their 13-man lineout. Elwood set up Junior Charlie for the second with a sweet break. After a burst by tight-head prop Mick Finlay, who had a huge game, Murphy worked out a dummy pass with Duignan for Ruane to make ground and put Carolan over.

That gave Connacht a 20-10 lead to defend in a frantic final quarter, which they needed after Townsend had created a try for Jonny Bell.

Gatland recalls, ‘They should have scored a try late in the game but Nicky Barry made an unbelievable tackle, probably one of the best tackles I’ve ever seen. They had a four-man overlap and it probably won the game for us.’

The win earned Connacht an away quarter-final against Agen but the Frensh side’s power game proved too much despite another quality Connacht performance.

Back in the away dressing room afterwards, they linked in a circle for one last time and Belted out ‘Red Is The Rose’. ‘Let them heat it,’ beseeched Elwood, ‘open the door.’

Good times. Good memories.

That was to be Warren Gatland’s last game in charge of Connacht as he was offered the Ireland job in February 1998 and went on to spend nearly three years at the helm of the national side.

‘Front Up Rise Up: The Official Story of Connacht Rugby’ is available in bookstores nationwide.

Connacht Rugby and the IRFU are delighted to announce that Johnny O’Connor is returning to the Sportsground as the province’s Senior Strength & Conditioning Coach.

Working with new Head of Athletic Performance David Howarth, O’Connor will be responsible for the senior squad’s strength and conditioning training and begins work at the Sportsground in the coming days.

O’Connor joins Connacht after a spell as Galway United’s Strength & Conditioning Coach having previously spent three years at the Academy of Premier League club Arsenal as their Strength & Conditioning Coach.

An inspirational leader during his playing days, the Galway native spent 10 years at Connacht Rugby along with a trophy-laden three-year spell at Wasps.

Having earned his first professional contract with Connacht in 2000, he played at the Sportsground for three seasons before moving to Wasps.

Guarantee your entry to all Connacht home games by signing up for a 2017/18 Season Ticket here.

The dynamic flanker won two Heineken Cups, two Premiership titles and a Powergen Cup with the English club before returning to Connacht in 2007 where he made a huge impact over a seven-year period.

On the international scene, O’Connor made his Ireland debut in 2004 and went on to earn 12 caps, helping the national side to Triple Crown success in 2006.

Having retired from professional rugby in 2013, O’Connor took up his first Strength & Conditioning role at Arsenal before returning home to Ireland with Galway United last year.

Commenting on the appointment, Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane said:

“We are delighted to be welcoming Johnny back to Connacht Rugby as Senior Strength & Conditioning Coach. He is someone that is hugely passionate about the area of S&C but also extremely passionate about the club and the people we represent.

“He has gained some valuable experience at both Arsenal and Galway United and I have no doubt that he will be a huge asset for us and the S&C team going forward.”

O’Connor said:

“This is a dream job for me and I am delighted to get the opportunity to go back to where it all started and where I played for 10 years. It is a real honour and I look forward to working with the squad and coaching team.

“I’d like to thank everyone at Galway United and wish them all the best for the rest of the season. Shane Keegan is an outstanding manager and both he and Colm Horgan, the captain, have been a great support to me during my time at the club.

“They made my job incredibly enjoyable and I really appreciate the efforts they have put in. I know the team will reap the rewards from their excellent work as the season goes on.”

Connacht Rugby can also confirm that Barry O’Brien will join the senior Strength & Conditioning team on a full-time basis following a year’s intern experience at the club.

 

21 years on from his appointment as Connacht Rugby Head Coach, Warren Gatland is currently on his second tour leading the British and Irish Lions.

Gatland spent two very successful years at the Sportsground at the dawn of the professional era having previously coached Galwegians for five seasons.

In the second of a three-part series looking back on Gatland’s time in Connacht, this abridged extract from ‘Front Up Rise Up: The Official Story of Connacht Rugby’, sees author Gerry Thornley look back on the New Zealander’s appointment at Galwegians and his first season at the Sportsground. Click here for The Gatland years (Part 1).

 

‘The thing I liked about the Connacht boys was that everybody knew we were up against it , but, man, when they put that jersey on they gave everything for it.’

Warren Gatland had been one of the All Blacks hookers in their squad which toured Wales and Ireland in 1989. He played one of his 17 uncapped representative matches for New Zealand in their 40-6 win over Connacht at the Sportsground that November. It had been his misfortune to understudy the indestructible Sean Fitzpatrick in the days before tactical replacements, and thus he never won a test cap for the All Blacks.

Mickey Heaslip, and a few other Galwegians stalwarts, had been chatting in the clubhouse bar one day with the club treasurer, Pat Holland, after a home defeat to Longford. Galwegians were at a low ebb, so bad that Holland said to Heaslip, ‘We have to do something about this.’

Holland, an accountant, had recently returned from working in New Zealand and suggested, ‘We need a new coach. Why don’t we try to get one of the All Blacks to stay back as our player-coach?’ They concluded that a prop who could combine the roles of player and coach would be the best fit.

Loosehead prop Steve McDowell was offered the role but declined and instead suggested Gatland.

The next day Heaslip and Galwegian’s captain Enda Guerin met Gatland in the All Blacks’ team hotel. They confirmed they were looking for a prop to become their player-coach and asked him if he could play prop. ‘I said, “Yeah, I can do that”, although I’d never played prop in my life,’ Gatland recalls. At the age of 26, it was Gatland’s first player-coach role.

The appointment proved a masterstroke as Gatland revolutionised training with a big emphasis on high-speed skills drills and Galwegians won their first 11 games under his watch.

In 1990-91, Galwegians missed out on qualifying for the second division of the inaugural All-Ireland League in the round-robin play-offs between the four provincial league winners. This happened again in 1991-92, but they won promotion to the AIL a year later. Gatland played and coached for another season, 1992-93, then returned to New Zealand and his career as a PE teacher while also playing one more year for Waikato prior to retiring.

In 1996, he arrived in Stockholm having answered Billy Glynn’s SOS.

When Gatland arrived, Connacht were in their customary place: at the bottom of the Irish Interprovincial heap. Since the advent of the Interprovincial Championship, Connacht had only managed to share the title on three occasions in 1956, ’57 and ’65. In the inaugural season of preofessionalism, 1995-96, they had lost to Ulster (27-9), Leinster (41-9), Munster (46-11) and the Exiles (28-22), before beating the touring Fijians (27-5).

Prior to the European competitions, the Interpros were run off over three weeks in September and October, and Connacht were immediately much more competitive. They lost 45-28 to Munster in Cork, and by 32-27 to Ulster in Ravenhill, before maintaining their biennial habit of scalping Leinster at the Sportsground, 22-13.

‘I knew that Leinster weren’t up for it when I saw Neil Francis go off injured in the first half,’ recalls Gatland of a typically wild, wet day in the west.

‘We were pretty competitive. We changed the way we defended and brought in that aggressive blitz defence. In those day there was no real video analysis. You were watching teams cold, and they weren’t expecting you to do those things.

‘The thing I liked about the Connacht boys was that everybody knew we were up against it , but, man, when they put that jersey on they gave everything for it.

‘We had players coming out of club rugby playing against teams with internationals and that’s when we struggled a little bit.’

In the first Challenge Cup, Connacht began their campaign with a 34-12 win over Petrarca of Italy at the Sportsground, before losing 26-9 away to Welsh side Dunvant the following Wednesday. ‘That night in Dunvant was a terrible night in Wales,’ recalls Gatland. ‘We went there fancying our chances, but everything just stuck for them.’

Three days later, Connacht were beaten 31-11 at home by a Northampton side laden with five prospective Lions for the 1997 tour to South Africa: Tim Rodber, Matt Dawson, Gregor Townsend, Nick Beal and Paul Grayson.

Connacht then lost 44-10 away to Toulon. ‘Toulon were just too big and physical for us,’ said Gatland.

He was a popular coach amongst the players, according to assistant coach Michael Cosgrave. ‘Not even the subs could find a bad word to say about him. He was innovative but also very inclusive, and was open to ideas from myself or the players. He didn’t treat the players like kids.’

A week later they beat Orrell 30-18 at home and thus finished fourth in their pool of six.

‘We came away from the season thinking we’d done all right,’ says Gatland. ‘We’d beaten Leinster and were competitive in Europe, winning two out of five. We didn’t disgrace ourselves and had done pretty well.’

Connacht probably saved their best until last, extending Australia to a 37-20 win at the Sportsground, one of 12 wins out of 12 by the Wallabies on their tour of Italy, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Gatland slipped into the crowd to watch the Wallabies train at Corinthian Park. ‘A couple of the players recognised me, and I got kicked out of the training session.’

But with that, Connacht’s season was over in mid-November. Gatland hung around until Christmas before returning to New Zealand to play with Waikato and teach. Before he left, he was interviewed by the then IRFU Director of Rugby, Ray Southam, and offered a full-time role as Connacht head coach for the next season.

Read more about Warren Gatland’s time at Connacht Rugby next week in the final instalment of our three-part series.

‘Front Up Rise Up: The Official Story of Connacht Rugby’ is available in bookstores nationwide.

 

Connacht Rugby and the IRFU are delighted to announce the appointment of David Howarth as Head of Athletic Performance at Connacht Rugby.

David joins the province ahead of the new season from NBA side Oklahoma City Thunder where he has worked as Athletic Performance Coordinator for the past three years.

Previous to his work in the US, David was a Strength & Conditioning Coach with the Australian Rugby Academy and has a wealth of experience across different professional sports at the very highest level.

Growing up in Australia, David played with the Eastern Suburbs Rugby Union Football Club from 1999 to 2007.

Commenting on the new appointment Willie Ruane, Connacht Rugby CEO said:

“We are delighted to welcome David to Connacht Rugby. He has a proven track record in strength and conditioning and a great deal of experience when it comes to getting the best out of professional sportsmen at the very highest level.

“David will be in place at the Sportsground for the beginning of the preseason period and we look forward to working with him.”

Nick Winkelman, Head of Athletic Performance & Science at the IRFU added:

“We are very excited to welcome David into the Connacht Rugby family. We believe that his passion for rugby and experience leading within a diversity of high-performance sport environments will allow him to seamlessly transition into Connacht and start making a positive impact from day one.”

 

 

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