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'This group are a brave group of young men. I know we'll grow again next year'

Andy Friend was delighted to see his Connacht team finish their season with a win.

Caolin Blade and Jarrad Butler after Connacht's win.
Caolin Blade and Jarrad Butler after Connacht's win.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE FIELDS OF Athenry was ringing around the Sportsground as Connacht’s season-concluding win over the Ospreys drew to a close, the western province’s non-playing squad members working up a racket to greet the end of the 2020/21 season.

Andy Friend and co. would love to still be in the hunt for a Rainbow Cup final spot but instead they will put their feet up tonight and toast the end of a long, strange campaign.

It wasn’t a satisfactory season for Connacht – missing out on the Pro14 and Rainbow Cup finals and exiting the Challenge Cup at the quarter-final stage – but it hasn’t really been the happiest season for anyone in truth.

The hope is that the next time Connacht play in Galway next season, they will do so in front of a hefty crowd of supporters making plenty of noise.

“It was great to have pretty much the whole extended squad here but let’s hope that’s the last time we play in front of a Clan-less Terrace because we miss it,” said Friend after Connacht’s 26-19 win against the Ospreys.

“The players, coaches, the whole squad, we all miss it. But it was great to hear The Fields of Athenry being belted out by a few of our guys tonight.”

The singing was a celebration of Connacht finishing on a high, with their first-half flurry of four tries carrying them to victory against the Welsh visitors. 

As important were some muscular moments in defence from Connacht in a second half that yielded no points for either team but still had plenty of exciting moments.

“I thought the performance was a really positive one from us,” said Friend. “There were a few questions asked about whether the game meant anything to us and you saw there tonight that it definitely did.

“The fellas were brave, they threw their bodies in front, they worked really hard. It wasn’t perfect in every aspect but to beat an Ospreys team still fighting to get into the final when we knew we weren’t going to a final just shows the spirit we’ve got in the group.

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“This group are a brave group of young men and they fight hard.

“I know that we’ll grow again next year but I just want performances like that where ideally you get the win, but even if you don’t, you can walk off saying we threw everything at it.”

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