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Connacht stalwart Swift enjoying new lease of life as landmark approaches

Guinness PRO12 Editor

26 Sep 2012

Michael Swift had a solid game in the second row for Connacht but failed to maintain their winning start...

His English accent may not give him away but no-one bleeds the green of Connacht more than second row Michael Swift – a 12-year veteran of the club, who is enjoying a new lease of life to his career.

Swift, 34, has been part of the Connacht culture since the turn of the century and is set to make his 150th league appearance against Leinster on Friday – as a result he is perfectly placed to pass judgement on the growth the west Ireland province has made.

Born in London to a Wexford father and a mother from Dublin, Swift has seen Connacht develop from Ireland’s poor relation, lagging behind Munster, Leinster and Ulster, to a side gearing up for a second consecutive season in the Heineken Cup.

Eric Elwood has overseen the recent development on the field which resulted in three players called up for the summer tour of New Zealand – Mike McCarthy and then uncapped duo Brett Wilkinson and Ronan Loughney – while full-back and captain Gavin Duffy would surely have won more than his ten caps without European player of the year Rob Kearney standing in his way.

Off the field, new chief executive Tom Sears, formerly Cricket Kenya boss, is continuing to develop the Connacht brand in a part of the country that must compete perhaps more than most with traditional sports Gaelic football and hurling.

And Swift, who admits he had no idea he was about to make his 150th league appearance, has been a key part of that growth.

“Having been at the club for so long, it’s fantastic to see the progress being made,” he said.

“You just have to have a look at the match-day experiences available, and the quality of rugby on show to see how far we’ve come.

“To be in the Heineken Cup for a second year is fantastic. That’s what draws the crowds, big European nights with world class players and that’s why there are so many more season ticket holders.

“The rugby community is growing in Galway and it’s not really like it’s in competition with the GAA, the all-Ireland finals have been on recently [Galway drew with Kilkenny in the hurling final] and there is great support across the sports.

“As a player, to be playing for a club on the up and to be in the Heineken Cup, it’s breathed new life into me really.”

Friday’s clash with Leinster will be a landmark occasion for Swift, who started 18 of Connacht’s matches last year and 19 the year before, but it’s also an vital one for the province.

A mounting injury list has contributed to just one win this season – against Zebre – as just like last season, matches have been lost by narrow margins.

Dan Parks, the RaboDirect PRO12 all-time scorer, was brought in over the summer to help turn those narrow defeats into victories but the fly-half is still waiting for his first appearance because of a calf problem.

And Swift is only too aware of the need to get back to winning ways at the Sportsground, having lost their opening two home fixtures.

“The injury list has been absolutely ridiculous,” said Swift. “It’s difficult to handle because we’ve got one of the smaller squad so it has been compounded but then on the plus side, it has giving youngsters like [scrum-half] Kieran Marmion, the chance.

“Leinster at home is a match that always excites and it’s a fixture that we’ve done well in recently and it will be great to make my 150th appearance – I didn’t really know about that to be honest.

“I want to keep going with Connacht for as long as I can and as long as the legs let me.

“Hopefully we can get the win, losing the first two matches means it has been a disappointing start to the season but like last year, we’re not too far away.”