Belfast Telegraph

Galway grit helping to build something special

By Alan Quinlan

After the shock announcement that Pat Lam will leave Connacht, Saturday's stunning win over Wasps couldn't have come at a better time. The whole province needed a lift and they got it in spades.

The timing of the announcement wasn't ideal, but regardless of whether it had happened when it did or not, taking on Wasps was always going to be a tough task.

It was another special moment at the Sportsground in Galway and the scenes at the full-time whistle will live long in the memory.

I was lucky enough to be involved in so many of those unforgettable days in Thomond Park and this win was a real throwback to that.

Bundee Aki said afterwards that Connacht deserve their place at the top table and I agree with him. If you want to regularly compete at this level you have to continuously raise your standards both on and off the pitch and Connacht are doing that.

Wasps' spending power is enormous, which is what makes Connacht's achievement all the more incredible. They've now beaten Toulouse and Wasps at home this season, which gives them a real chance of getting out of their pool.

The journey that Connacht are on at the moment reminds me of my early days with Munster. We knew that a lot of the teams we played against were probably more talented, in that they had more superstars.

They definitely had more money, but we always took massive satisfaction in trying to outwork the opposition and show more desire and passion.

You have to enjoy playing through that pain barrier when you're under pressure and Connacht definitely did that on Saturday. Look back at our game against Saracens in 2000, when Mark Mapletoft scored a late try to put them in front. Mick Galwey got us together under the posts and just said: "We're going to go up the field and we are going to score."

It sounds so simple, but we all looked at each other and knew that it was in us to do it.

Moments like that define teams and when Josh Bassett scored late on in Galway, John Muldoon probably said something similar to his players.

When you can create that level of belief and have that much confidence in each other, it allows you to create those special days, even when you are not at your best. Connacht's performance was far from flawless and they certainly rode their luck, but sometimes you need the rub of the green.

By the letter of the law, their late try should not have stood but that was another break that went in their favour.

The Connacht fans have stuck by their team through thick and thin and they deserved that moment on Saturday as much as the players.

It was the same for us in that win over Saracens. Jack Carty had his Ronan O'Gara moment and it could yet be the making of him. When O'Gara slotted that conversion at the death against Saracens, everyone who was in Thomond Park that evening immediately knew that it would stay with them forever.

Carty admitted himself that his place kicking does need to improve, but he showed unbelievable character to step up and slot the touchline conversion to win the game.

Connacht have had to deal with so many injuries, but it was their never-say-die attitude and relentless desire that got them over the line.

The easy option would have been to wilt and throw in the towel, but there is a steely toughness about this Connacht side and they found a way to dig out the win.

Whoever replaces Lam will have big shoes to fill, but there is no doubt that Connacht is an attractive proposition for another top-class coach to take on. The whole perception about Connacht has changed.

They are still work in progress and there is a certain degree of vulnerability about them. If you're going to attract the best coaches and players in the world, you've got to sustain this over a period of time.

Getting that new stadium would be the icing on the cake and every time I meet someone from Connacht, you can feel that ambition. It's infectious and everyone in and around the club is feeding off it.

These are special times in Connacht. The players and supporters should cherish every minute of it.

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