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'That hurt will be turned into positive energy and we'll be better next year'

Andy Friend’s Connacht were left disappointed as they lost to Ulster in the Pro14 quarter-finals.
May 5th 2019, 8:15 AM 7,657 9

Murray Kinsella reports from Kingspan Stadium

HAVING ENJOYED THE fact that they were busy with training last Monday – and therefore not on a ‘Mad Monday’ like other clubs – Connacht may well be putting plans in place for an end-of-season party tomorrow.

Andy Friend’s side saw their encouraging campaign come to an end in Belfast yesterday and they could have few complaints about the outcome as Ulster deservedly won 21-13.

Caolin Blade dejected after the game Connacht's Caolin Blade at the final whistle in Belfast. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While it was a disappointing conclusion to the season, there is little doubt that Connacht have made genuine strides of improvement in the Australian head coach’s first year in charge.

The achievements are clear, the province’s key players have consistently shown good form, their depth has grown, and the entire organisation is happier off the pitch too. 

Connacht’s campaign is over but there is certainty within the set-up that they’re moving in the right direction.

“We just said downstairs that it’s not where we wanted to be in terms of getting knocked out of a quarter-final and we definitely wanted to be in a semi-final and, ideally, we’d love to be in a final holding up silverware but we didn’t get there,” said Friend yesterday evening at Kingspan Stadium.

“On reflection, though, we put some hoodoos to bed this year – the win up here in October, we’re in the Champions Cup next season, it’s only the second time in the club’s history that we’ve got into the play-off stages.

“It is hard to reflect and try to put a positive spin on things but those are the facts of it. There’s a lot of boys hurting down there, a lot of staff hurting, but I know that hurt will be turned around into positive energy and we’ll be better next year.”

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Nonetheless, Connacht will head into the summer with regrets about their failure to show their full potential against Ulster in yesterday’s quarter-final defeat.

Jack Carty and Tiernan O’Halloran dejected after the game Jack Carty and Tiernan O'Halloran were left dejected. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They started poorly, trailing 8-0 after 15 minutes and only getting their first score in the 30th minute, while they failed to turn a handful of linebreaks into tries on a day when their only five-pointer came from an intercept.

“Our first 25 minutes didn’t help us, mate, we were a bit slow out of the blocks and they got a bit of a start on us,” said Friend. “I thought we rallied well in the second half with the genuine arm wrestle that we thought it was going to be.

“I thought they scrambled very well. We cut them open a couple of times and were probably guilty of not finishing but that was probably down to their dogged defence. I thought they worked really hard off the ball, challenged our ball and defending well.

“We made a few good linebreaks and got into their 22 and just didn’t finish things off there. Whether that’s a patience thing or a physicality thing, not sure, we’ll have a look at that.

“You’ve got to pay a compliment to their defence. It meant a lot to them, not that it didn’t for us, and they probably won that physical battle today.

“In the end, there was always going to be a team disappointed and, unfortunately, it was us.”

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