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Dublin: 3 °C Saturday 14 December, 2019
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'It was goosebump stuff' - Connacht fans play their part in Pro12 glory

‘It’s all a bit of a blur now but it’s just an incredible feeling,’ says Ronan Loughney.

Murray Kinsella reports from Edinburgh

JUST UNDER AN hour and a half before yesterday’s Guinness Pro12 final in Edinburgh yesterday, there was a special scene.

Connacht fans – having flown, driven, ferried and bussed to get to the Scottish capital – flooded to the West Stand entrance of Murrayfield to welcome in their team.

Connacht fans before the match Connacht were welcomed in by a vocal crowd. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

By the time the Connacht team bus pulled into view, already the atmosphere was electric. As Pat Lam and his players stepped off the bus that atmosphere lifted again as The Fields of Athenry rang out.

‘Bundee, Bundee, Bundee,’ was chanted too as the incredibly popular centre bounced off the bus.

Earlier in the day, green jerseys had appeared to outnumber blue ones by some distance around the city and that impression was then backed up by the volume of Connacht’s support as Lam’s men went about taking Leinster apart. Winners on and off the pitch.

With Connacht having felt the love all week and all season, it’s clear that the Connacht faithful have played their part in this journey.

“It’s all a bit of a blur now but it’s just an incredible feeling. It’s the best day of my life. The whole match was a blur but it’s just a great feeling,” said Connacht prop Ronan Loughney, who has been with the province for 11 seasons, afterwards.

“I’m delighted for all the lads but just the support there today was immense. As we came into the changing rooms all the Connacht supporters were around and it was something special there.

“I don’t know if there are many people who get to experience something like that and it was just goosebump stuff.

John Muldoon and Bundee Aki on the plane to Knock Connacht flew into Knock airport last night. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I just think that walking out there it felt like it was just Connacht supporters. As we came into the stadium, it was incredible.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it, so just thanks so much to all the supporters. It’s made a massive difference to us over the season. I know a lot of people paid a lot of money to get over and went a lot of different awkward ways but it made a massive difference to us.”

An inspired Connacht were rampant in the opening 30 minutes in particular, running up a 15-0 lead they held into half time.

Tries from fullback and Tiernan O’Halloran and right wing Niyi Adeolokun were then added to in the second half as left wing Matt Healy ensured all of Connacht’s back three got on the score sheet.

“The lads have been brilliant all season,” said Loughney of Connacht’s wide men. “Pat said before the game that our reward for being consistent all season and playing our game was to get to play in a stadium like this and a pitch like that.

“It’s an incredible ground and it suited the lads with the running rugby. It was a fast game and I was definitely feeling it at stages. The lads seemed to go up a gear when they had space.

“It was brilliant; the created the tries there out wide and going back to the same old thing, we stuck to what our system was and it created space for us and allowed the lads to shine. They did brilliantly.”

Lam has already targeted a Champions Cup play-off and a second Pro12 title next season, stating that such goals are realistic, and Loughney says that very much matches the ambition of this Connacht playing squad.

Connacht fans meet Niyi Adeolokun Connacht were welcomed in at Knock by a huge crowd. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We won’t get ahead of ourselves but there’s serious ambition at this province and I think there’s been different stages throughout the year where people probably thought ‘they’re going well but it will come crashing down at some stage or won’t work at some stage,’” said Loughney.

“We’ve always stuck to what we’re doing and there’s a great group of young lads coming through. There’s real belief there and it comes off the back of all the hard work put in by everybody in Connacht.

“It’s great to be a part of it at the moment and we’ll be kicking on hopefully next year and aiming high again.”

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Murray Kinsella

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