DFP Header Area

Getting to know… Connacht

Charlie Peat

8 Aug 2017

Having hoisted their first domestic title in 2016, it was a frustrating season last time out for Connacht.

The province finished in eighth place and were desperately unlucky not to progress through the European Champions Cup pool stages.

But the Irish outfit, based in Galway, will be looking to bounce back in the newly expanded Guinness PRO14 and here’s all you need to know about them.

History

Founded in 1885, 132 years ago, Connacht were formed as one of the four provincial sides in Ireland, alongside Leinster, Munster and Ulster.

Connacht is the smallest of the four provinces by population and has hugely popular Gaelic football and hurling teams.

Since joining the league upon its inception in 2001, Connacht’s finest moment was their 2016 title triumph as they defeated rivals Leinster 20-10 in a thrilling final at BT Murrayfield, in Edinburgh.

The province has had limited success on the continent, reaching the European Champions Cup on four occasions while also making three semi-finals in the Challenge Cup.

Captain

Holding the record of most-capped player in the Guinness PRO14, Connacht captain John Muldoon has been a stalwart for the province since 2004.

The No.8, who is equally adept playing as a flanker, has made a remarkable 303 appearance for the club in 13 years and has been capped by Ireland three times.

Muldoon was captain for Connacht when they won their first major trophy in 2016 and was named man of the match for his remarkable performance in the back row.

 

Inpho

Coach

Christchurch-born Kieran Keane will be taking the reins of Connacht for the new Guinness PRO14 season as he replaces Pat Lam.

The former New Zealand international is expected to follow in the footsteps of Lam and promote a swashbuckling attacking style of rugby as they look to bring the Guinness PRO14 back to Galway.

The 63-year-old made his name as attack coach for the Chiefs as the New Zealand side scored 76 tries in 17 games during the 2016 Super Rugby campaign.

Star man

Full-back Tiernan O’Halloran was Connacht’s man of the moment during their title success in 2016 with the 26-year-old dotting down the opening try in the final.

Named in last season’s Dream Team, O’Halloran made his debut in 2009 and has gone on to make 127 appearances as well as six international appearances for Ireland.

Still only 26, the Clifden-born full-back has plenty of potential to become a Connacht all-star for years to come.

Player to watch

Caolin Blade has shown great experience despite being just 23 years of age and has already made 44 appearances for Connacht.

The dynamic scrum-half made 24 appearance last season, completing 1014 passes in an impressive first full season at the club.

Inpho

Blade was rewarded with a senior contract at the start of last season and will be looking to challenge Kieran Marmion for the scrum-half position this campaign.

Stadium

The Sportsground has played host to Connacht since it opened in 1927 and is also used for greyhound racing.

Holding 8,100, the small stadium can produce a raucous atmosphere and hosted its first ever Champions Cup match in 2011 when Connacht took on Toulouse.

It has been expanded twice in recent seasons, both in 2011 and 2016 as the club has enjoyed increased success.

Historic rivalries

Historically Connacht’s biggest rivals have been the other three Irish provinces as they battled out the Inter-Provincial Championship before the Guinness PRO14.

The Galway-based team have been somewhat overshadowed by their three rivals, having taken fewer honours than the other three.

But their triumph in 2016 has ensured that all four Irish provinces have now tasted Guinness PRO14 success.