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'It's massive for young people in Connacht': Blade cuts the way for small clubs out west

The scrum-half said it was a proud moment to captain his native province at the weekend.

Blade and Connacht didn't get the result they wanted at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Blade and Connacht didn't get the result they wanted at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

STAND-IN CAPTAIN CAOLIN Blade may not have got the result he wanted for Connacht in the Challenge Cup on Saturday, but it was a significant day for the province.

Blade skippered the side for the first time against Sale Sharks on a day when junior rugby clubs in the province got a huge boost.

Blade came through the system at Monivea RRC — Eddie O’Sullivan’s first coaching post was there — where the club in a GAA heartland in mid-Galway has thrived for decades.

Saturday’s 32-13 loss to Sale was also notable as it’s the first time in the professional era that two players from Connemara have played for Connacht.

Experienced fullback Tiernan O’Halloran from Clifden was joined in the back three by Colm de Buitléar, who was making his first start a week after his debut for the province.

De Buitléar, a grandson of the late nature filmmaker Eamon de Buitléar, started playing rugby for An Ghaeltacht Rugbaí, the club in Carraroe which was founded by his father Cian in 2005 to promote the game in south Connemara.

Ballinrobe RFC also had cause for celebration as Mattie Burke, who grew up in the south Mayo town after being born in London, made his debut off the bench.

He joined fellow prop Denis Buckley (Creggs RFC) in flying the flag for some of the smaller clubs in the province, while another Conan O’Donnell has come off a busy conveyor belt in Sligo RFC.

Blade said that players coming through in this way is a huge boost to the development of the sport in the west.

“It’s massive for young people in Connacht, to see that the system works,” he said. 

Caolin Blade Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Also, that if you work hard, like Mattie and Colm for example, you can come through and that’s really pleasing to see.

The 24-year-old has chalked up 72 appearances for Connacht since his debut four years ago and was chuffed when Andy Friend asked him to skipper the side last weekend. 

“It was an absolute honour, my family was really proud. Obviously the result was a bit disappointing but it was quite humbling to be asked to captain Connacht when I was told on Tuesday morning.

“I was delighted, it didn’t change too much for myself, it’s a big honour but I tried to focus on my own game.”

He and Connacht have quickly turned their attention to Friday’s crunch Pro14 game away to Ospreys in Bridgend [KO 8.05pm, TG4] , a game which could go a long in the battle by both sides to book Champions Cup qualification next season.

And Blade believes they can put Saturday’s loss to Sale behind them and bounce back.

“Sometimes you can get more learnings from losing than winning and with a six-day turnaround we need to take those learnings and bring them all in the Pro14 next Friday,” he added.

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John Fallon

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