Belfast Telegraph

Magner's League: Connacht require off-field progress

By Michael Sadlier

It's been a rousing start to the season and, frankly, not even the most optimistic observer would have believed that Connacht would win two of their first three games to be sitting fourth in the table.

Indeed they really should still have an unbeaten record and be located on top of the pile had they held on to their lead in Wales, a fortnight ago, in a frantic finish from the Scarlets.

They then responded magnificently last weekend by going out and closing the deal with an impressive win at Glasgow, their first league success away from home for two years.

Yet, despite new coach Eric Elwood’s terrific start at the helm of the western province, the longer term forecast still looks far from settled.

The latest whispering campaign is another take on a familiar refrain; namely that Connacht are living on borrowed time as a professional entity. The evidence seems compelling.

All the squad and management are on contracts which are due to expire at the end of this season which, it just so happens, sees the IRFU continuing its review on the western province with a view to presumably assessing Connacht’s viability as a cost-effective concern.

Apparently Connacht need to demonstrate they can stand up without the existing levels of assistance when it comes to bringing in finance, though quite how this is to be achieved in the current financial climate looks pretty challenging.

And there’s more. The Sportsground-based squad is apparently made up of only 30 full-time players which effectively means that only a massive helping of good fortune with injuries will ensure Connacht remain competitive throughout the season.

The whispering gains no currency from Elwood. For him, adversity is to be tackled head on in the only way that matters; results. So far, he has delivered but he needs much more

Mind you, he has hardly kept his counsel on the other issues facing Connacht and Michael Bradley’s successor has already made his voice heard.

He has made it known that he wants the contract situation sorted out and that he wants a new stand at the less than salubrious Sportsground which might boost their usually paltry home crowds.

The former Ireland international reckons that Connacht’s future is more secure than might appear but that what is needed now is clarity from Dublin.

There is certainly talent at his disposal. Most of the squad remain from last season which saw them make the Amlin Cup semi-finals only to narrowly falter against Toulon.

They have so far made light of the inspirational John Muldoon’s injury-enforced absence with winger Fionn Carr’s strike rate — four tries in three games – and out-half Ian Keatley’s place kicking accuracy spearheading their current good form.

Just for the moment, the west is very much awake.

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