Belfast Telegraph

Thinking about Anthony Foley helped me decide to leave, says Pat Lam

By David Kelly

Galway seems to be weeping tears as the shock departure of an adopted son of the west still reverberates around the city. There has been a visceral outpouring of emotion following the news that Connacht's pied piper Pat Lam is joining Bristol next year on foot of an offer palpably too good to refuse from a variety of angles, not merely financial.

Nearby in the Sportsground, the squad are upping the ante as preparations continue for this weekend's Champions Cup trip to face Wasps.

They are already moving on. Their coach is preparing to. And you get the sense that everyone just wants to "move on". For this is life. And this is business. Sometimes, perhaps always, you can't live one without the other.

And so Lam prepared to deliver a 30-minute monologue, touching on a variety of deeply personal reflections upon how his life has become inextricably linked with his profession, and how a funeral forced him to re-assess his own life and that of those around him.

He told of how Bristol entertained him with one job offer - to go with the unnamed proposition earlier this year from another club - before returning a couple of weeks later with one that could not be denied.

The coach, father of five children, had to make a simple choice. "The IRFU contract does have a six-month notice period. It is the only thing I wasn't comfortable with at the beginning. But I signed it," he said.

"Before I arrived here I was a sacked coach for seven months: no job, five kids and a wife.

"I had suffered racial abuse and my four-year-old girl opening the house door to TV cameras. But these are the choices I make.

"I arrived as head coach into one of the four provinces. All the others left before their contracts ended. I am the last one standing.

"My whole process when any offer is put to me, I look at my rugby career and I'm responsible for putting food on the table. It's rugby and family.

"Two weeks ago, quite a significant offer came in to do what I have done here. That completely flipped my whole decision-making, from rugby to family."

In any event, his head was already turning.

After attending the funeral of Anthony Foley last month, a picture formed in his head of what life might have to look like beyond rugby. Or, even, without it.

"I'm the second Pat Lam, my grandfather died at 55 when I was nine. My dad has been going through a triple by-pass," he explained. "And I'm thinking about Axel and wondering if that was me, what would happen to Steph and the kids?

"I had my first child 24 years ago today. I was a teacher, my wife a nurse, but she gave up her career to bring up the kids. This offer made me make a decision about my children. I can pay for a student debt and two others to go to college.

"My daughter can go to training college in Bristol. None of us knows when our number is up but when it does, I can be at peace.

"In professional rugby when you're moving to someone else's home, we understand that you're meeting other people, but me and my wife love doing that.

"The history is important but it is the people. There are plenty of beautiful places around the world but it is the people. We are very humbled by what people have been saying.

"That's why I shared more than normal. I've shared it because this place means a lot to me and the people mean a lot to me."

Connacht and Lam should grow as much apart as they did together. That's sport. And that's life.

Belfast Telegraph


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