Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: -2°C
# Gaeilgeoir
'He's got a bright future... He's from an area that's not known for its rugby'
Connemara man Colm de Buitléar was one of three players to make their Connacht debuts against Bordeaux.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Sportsground

ALTHOUGH THE GAME itself won’t be remembered as a Connacht classic, a 22-10 victory over Bordeaux in the Challenge Cup will live long in the memory for three of their players.

Irish-qualified second row Joe Maksymiw, who joined from Leicester during the summer, made his bow for the province, while two academy players, Conor Fitzgerald and Colm de Buitléar, also got their first taste of senior action.

De Buitléar, a versatile back, is a particularly interesting prospect for Connacht.

Colm DeBuitlear after the game Tommy Dickson / INPHO Colm de Buitléar made his Connacht debut against Bordeaux. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

A Connemara man and proud Gaeilgeoir, his rugby pathway began with An Ghaeltacht Rugbaí -  the Carraroe-based club – before continuing with Galway Corinthians.

It’s a huge positive for Connacht to be getting a player like 20-year-old de Buitléar from Connemara, particularly given their aim of representing the entire province.

“It’s brilliant,” said Connacht head coach Andy Friend. “I know he’s a Gealic speaker and he’s from an area that’s not known for its rugby. He’s got a young brother [Connacht U18s hooker Eoin] who’s pretty handy too so I’m really pleased for Colm and his family. 

“I know they were down here today to support him and he’s got a bright future. It’s important that we keep pushing those indigenous boys if they’re good enough.”

While de Buitléar is a versatile back, he wouldn’t have expected to end up playing at scrum-half on his debut.

But having come off the bench on the wing, de Buitléar spent the closing 10 minutes of the game further infield after an unfortunate shoulder injury to replacement scrum-half Conor McKeon just after he had come off the bench. 

“Colm is not a halfback but he was for the last 10 minutes out there today and that’s a tough job,” said Friend.

“As a young bloke who hasn’t played any halfback this year he came on and did a reasonable job for us.”

Robin Copeland with Conor Fitzgerald and Colm DeBuitlear after the game Tommy Dickson / INPHO De Buitléar and Conor Fitzgerald with Robin Copeland post-match. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Out-half Fitzgerald, the younger brother of Munster fullback Stephen, will be pleased to have made his first senior debut appearance too, even if the conditions made life tough at the Sportsground. 

A former Limerick minor hurler, Fitzgerald was released from Munster’s academy at the end of last season but his move up to Connacht has been swiftly rewarded with first-team action.

“Young Fitzy put in a couple of good kicks for us and he’s really impressed us in the pre-season,” said Friend of 21-year-old Fitzgerald’s 12-minute cameo.

An Ardscoil Rís alumnus, Fitzgerald has been capped at Ireland U20 level and will hope to get further opportunities during the remainder of Connacht’s season, as will lock Maksymiw, who stood out in pre-season but faces strong competition in the second row.

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Overall, Friend was satisfied with Connacht’s three-try win to kick off their Challenge Cup campaign, albeit a little disappointed to miss out on a bonus point.

“We made it a bit harder than it needed to be,” said Friend.

“Bordeaux turned up and did want to play, sometimes the French sides touring in wet weather don’t want to play, but credit to them for playing, but we needed to be more clinical at certain times in the game.

“Just for too many periods in the first half, I felt like we had to ‘go now,’ but we didn’t.

Joe Maksymiw celebrates after the game with Quinn Roux Tommy Dickson / INPHO Lock Joe Maksymiw [left] earned his Connacht debut. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“I think we’re still trying to find that balance between being a team that wants to play with real ambition and tempo, and making sure we are respecting the opposition, conditions, and keeping the ball in front. Sometimes you don’t get all those decisions right.” 

Connacht travel to Sale next weekend for round two of the Challenge Cup pool stages and changes to the starting team are likely again.

Loosehead prop Peter McCabe is a concern after failing a Head Injury Assessment during the win over Bordeaux, while rotation was always likely in these two European games.

“We needed to rest a few blokes after six pretty solid games at the front end of the Pro14, so I feel like the squad is in a healthy spot at the moment,” said Friend. “We’ll rotate a few boys and give a few blokes an opportunity in Sale next week.

“But it’s important that we can’t be saying because we don’t have perceived front-liners there that we’re not in with a good shout of winning. It’s for the other blokes coming in to step up, we shouldn’t regress or stay stagnant.

“If players get their opportunity, I want them to take it.”

- This article was updated at 6.28pm to correct ‘her’ to ‘his’ in the caption of the first photograph.

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