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McHugh surprised at Connacht's recent struggles in Dublin

 

By John Fallon

The Dublin native who landed an injury-time drop goal to snatch victory for Connacht in their only win in the capital in the professional era said he can't believe they have not won there since.

Mark McHugh, who left Leinster looking for game time with Connacht, landed an 83rd minute drop goal to snatch a 26-23 win in September 2002.

It was the first ever meeting between Leinster and Connacht in the Celtic League and while the westerners have trekked back to Donnybrook and the RDS 14 times since then, they have been beaten on every occasion.

Connacht have won six of their 14 meetings with Leinster at the Sportsground and did, of course, beat them 20-10 in Murrayfield to win the PRO12 title in 2016, but a losing bonus point on three occasions has been as much as they have captured in Dublin since that famous win.

"It's a surprise they haven't won in Dublin since then, especially given all the success of recent years. But it's also hard to believe it's a decade and a half since that night," said McHugh ahead of today's clash between the sides (3.15pm).

"We had made a good start to the season. We were looking good to win and Keith Gleeson scored a late converted try which tied up the match.

"It looked like a draw but we had one good attack and the ball came back to me and I had a go and thankfully it went over."

It was the second time in three games that McHugh landed a last-gasp drop goal, having snatched victory away to Borders on the opening weekend.

"The inter-pros were always tough games and that remains the same today, especially with so many of them on this time of year," said McHugh.

He was part of the first wave of players to move west from Leinster in the professional era - he spent six years at the Sportsground before signing for Montpellier.

"A few of us moved around then, the likes of Ronan McCormack and Des Dillon," added McHugh.

Current head coach Leo Cullen played in the second row on that evening in 2002 for a Leinster side who were champions.

The Connacht squad for today's clash at the RDS includes Leinster natives Cian Kelleher, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Denis Coulson and Eoghan Masterson, who will be hoping to follow in McHugh's footsteps and finally bridge that 15-year gap.

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