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Keane: Connacht Was A Good Fit From The Get-Go

Keane: Connacht Was A Good Fit From The Get-Go

Incoming Connacht head coach Kieran Keane has given an insight into his appointment to the role and how he is coming to the Sportsground to ‘sharpen the tools and put more tools in the toolbox for the players’.

There is a changing of the guard at Connacht Rugby with assistant coaches Jimmy Duffy and Nigel Carolan currently overseeing the start of pre-season training, and Kieran Keane, Pat Lam’s successor as head coach, due to venture north following the conclusion of the Super Rugby season.

New Zealander Keane, whose Connacht appointment was confirmed in February, is currently seeing out his term as Chiefs attack coach, although he spent last week in Galway meeting the province’s players and getting to know his fellow coaches better.

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Carolan, the former Ireland Under-20 head coach, explained: “We had a week with ‘KK’ last week and we crammed a lot into it. It wasn’t all rugby, it is important that we get to know the man and find out what he’s like away from rugby and we had a couple of opportunities for that and he’s great.

“For him, the only disappointing thing was that he had to head back to New Zealand, he wanted to stay and get his teeth stuck into pre-season here. We had a Skype this morning (Thursday) at 7am and we filled him in on what’s happening and the mood in the camp, so he’s not too far away and is keeping a close eye on things.”

Connacht are releasing a series of video interviews with Keane on their new website to introduce him to the province’s supporters, and the Sportsground faithful have already made quite an impression on the former Canterbury player.

“We’re obviously going to try and get some very good performances (on the park) that people can be proud of. They flood through the gates because it’s a champion team to watch,” said Keane.

“I heard that the Sportsground get behind its players. I watched a few games, I’ve been watching some football on the sly and just looking at our performances and how they play the game, but also looking at what’s going on behind the scenes.

“You can’t help but smile with the feral support for the home team and the fear of god that it puts up the opposition and perhaps the people adjudicating the game. The pressure is wonderful.

“I actually come from a place very similar, Tasman, a small place but very intimate. I like that because that’s what I’m about. That’s pretty much where I’m from. It was a good fit from the get-go.”

Finding a replacement for a GUINNESS PRO12-title winning coach was always going to be a tough assignment for Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane, but it was notable that he said Keane was the ‘perfect fit’ for the westerners when the appointment was made public a few months ago.

Acknowledged as ‘a highly-experienced head coach with a winning track record’, it was obvious to the 63-year-old Kiwi from his first contact with Ruane and Connacht that this is a partnership that has the potential to flourish.

“Willie Ruane and his board, they spent a bit of time, they put me in what appeared to me to be a castle, and we sat around and had a general chat. I never realised it was a bit more than just a chat – it was more of an interview, they were sussing me out but I was sussing them out at the same time!

“I was delighted with what transpired, and the thing that came across that I really enjoyed was the aspiration that they had and that they talked about for Connacht. I’m not coming here as a retirement project, I’m coming here to sharpen the tools and to put more tools in the toolbox for the players,” he added.

Having played for the province and subsequently managed the Connacht Academy for 13 years, Carolan will be a key lieutenant for Keane as he acclimatises to Irish and European rugby. The man who guided the Ireland U-20s to a runners-up finish at last summer’s World Rugby U-20 Championship is clearly relishing being part of Connacht’s next chapter.

“It’s very interesting and it’s been with a sort of nervous excitement,” Carolan said of his new position. “The new regime got together last week when KK was over and we crammed a lot into the week. It was great to share our ideas and expectations and what’s important to us with the new regime.

“Everyone has been aligned and there is a smile on everybody’s face. Everybody’s working really hard but enjoying the experience, which I think is most important. Guys don’t mind working and putting in the hours and the hard effort knowing that everybody is working really hard for each other and it has been very positive. The first few days have been really tough for the guys, their training volume has been particularly high but they’re enjoying that and they’re starting to see the benefits already.

“There are no pre-conceived notions or expectations on players, so starting from day one everyone is on an even keel again and with that it just brings that level of excitement. There’s probably a new way we will be looking to play the game and the players are certainly excited by that and we’re certainly excited as coaches to be facilitating that.”

It is not all ‘in with the new’ at the Sportsground. Carolan said that ’80 to 85% of the playing squad is still intact’ and ‘the level of competition among the players will hopefully make us a formidable side this year’.

Of the old guard, inspirational number 8 and captain John Muldoon is incredibly entering his 15th pre-season with Connacht, but Carolan says the sheer enthusiasm that the Portumna man brings to training has been a joy to see.

“It’s like it’s his first (pre-season here)! The attitude that he brings, he’s just so enthusiastic. He doesn’t have to say much but when he does, the guys listen. He’s enjoyed his first few days. He enjoyed meeting KK last week and seeing the road that he wants to take this team down.

“He’s very enthused by it. He’s a seasoned pro at this stage but he’s certainly leading by example and he’s enjoying his first few days back.”