McKeon's side have enjoyed rapturous support at home this season. James Crombie/INPHO
homefield advantage

'We wanted to turn it into a fortress' - Eoin McKeon on Sportsgrounds atmosphere

The back row is loving the ‘infectious’ enthusiasm that is around the side this year.

FOR YEARS THE only thing you had to fear about playing Connacht was the Roman atmosphere generated in the cauldron of the Galway Sportsground.

This season the westerners have more in their arsenal than a rambunctious crowd – although that certainly still helps their cause.

Pat Lam’s men have a physically imposing pack and a slick backline comprised mostly of young bucks with a sprinkling of old hands. The mix is working well this season as Connacht are currently sixth in the Pro12 and have an unbeaten home record.

Back Row Eoin McKeon has been a key part of the revival, appearing in ten games this season, and he says Connacht’s home form is a big reason for their stellar start.

“We wanted to make it Fortress Sportsground,” McKeon said.

“We haven’t lost there this season and that was one of our target’s before the season started, to make it into a fortress. It is only a Challenge Cup game this weekend but we are targeting Bayonne because we don’t want to upset our supporters.”

Connacht has always been known for having a passionate fan base but that has swelled this year as the team continue to improve. McKeon has noticed the increased buzz around the city and as a Galway native, he is revelling in it.

McKeon even has a sponsorship with The King’s Head pub in Galway city. After a big win, a text from the owner often comes and a few pints and grub for the players is laid on, as well as the boost of having some local legends in the establishment – a win/win situation, really.

“It is infectious when you are winning,” McKeon said.

“You get more media coverage and now people come to the games expecting to see us win rather than hoping to see us win. If we weren’t winning people a lot of people wouldn’t be coming but people want to be there now.”

Connacht’s unblemished home record is the reason there is such a feel-good factor around the team and last week’s win over the Scarlets was a good measurement of how far they’ve come.

After a disastrous start, they were 8-0 down after three minutes but didn’t allow a score for the remainder of the game and also scored a breathtaking try.


“There was a blunder early on but under the posts everyone was just saying ‘next job, next job’,” McKeon said.

“It was great to see that even when we go down early, that we can keep calm and come back.”

After initially impressing in the Connacht team, McKeon acknowledges that his form tailed off towards the end of last season. He bulked up over the summer, putting on about five kilos, and a good pre-season has paid dividend so far as he has almost matched last season’s try tally with two scores this term.

That coupled with the input of coaches Pat Lam and Dan McFarland has developed not just McKeon, but the entire Connacht pack.

“Dan’s brilliant, and the attention to detail he brings for each game is great,” McKeon said.

“Pat has helped me with the small things in my game like which foot to play the ball off at the base of the scrum. Those little add-ons have been great for me.

“Our pack has put on a lot of size and we are not a small pack any more. We have been physically dominating some teams this season.”

McKeon is in a strange position of almost being a 23-year old veteran as there is another tier of players like Darragh Leader, Kieran Marmion and Robbie Henshaw who occupy the role of young guns.

McKeon thinks the balance of youth and experience has been well-struck in the squad, especially in the backline, which had a very young age profile until the recent addition of a famous name.

“I’d like to hold onto being a young lad for a bit longer,” McKeon laughed.

“I’m not a veteran like Swifty [Michael Swift] just yet but I am one of the more senior players. We have a couple of older players in the pack but before Mils [Muliaina] came in our backline was very young so it is great to get a bit more experience in there.”

The Sportsground will become a Winter Wonderland for Connacht Rugby’s Challenge Cup clash with Bayonne this Saturday December 6th (kick off 5pm).

Bring the family early and enjoy festive carols from the Co. Cavan RFC Men’s Choir. Meet Santa Claus in his grotto and win spot prizes and merchandise give-aways throughout the night. Tickets for Connacht v Bayonne are available online from, Centre & SuperValu stores province-wide and from the Connacht Rugby office at the Sportsground.

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