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'Connacht have shown a lot of loyalty to me and I have been loyal to them'

Denis Buckley will become the third member of Connacht’s 200 Club this weekend.

Buckley is set to win his 200th Connacht cap this weekend.
Buckley is set to win his 200th Connacht cap this weekend.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE 200 CLUB in Connacht is a very exclusive one. Michael Swift and John Muldoon are currently its only members, although that is set to change this weekend as Denis Buckley hits the impressive milestone for his province.

The 30-year-old loosehead prop has been remarkably consistent for the westerners, delivering mobility, fitness, set-piece solidity, a constant breakdown turnover threat, and his fair share of highly skillful moments.

While many feel the Roscommon man should be able to call himself an Ireland international, Buckley has simply continued to turn in good performances season after season since his debut back in 2011.

The lure of playing for Ireland is one of the reasons Buckley has stayed the course with Connacht, of course, but there is a real pride for him in representing his native province for nearly a decade at this stage.

“Over the years I have had one or two opportunities on the table [to go to other clubs] that I seriously considered at the time, but Connacht is where I’m from,” says Buckley.

“I understand I’m in a pretty privileged position to play for Connacht 200 times. It’s something that has been very important to me.

“There have been opportunities over the years but Connacht have shown a lot of loyalty to me and I have been loyal to them. I’m proud to play for this team, I really like playing for this team and I’m happy with how things have worked out and the decisions I made in the past.”

Buckley first ran out with the Connacht team as a 12-year-old back in 2002, lining up alongside then-captain Eric Elwood, who would go on to hand him his senior debut nine years later.

There are fond memories aplenty for Buckley across the course of his 199 games so far, including wins over Harlequins and Leinster, although he has had some disappointment too, particularly missing the 2016 Pro12 final win over Leinster due to injury.

denis-buckley Buckley made his debut back in 2011. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But Buckley had already played a huge role in Connacht reaching that point and has enjoyed long stretches of excellent form that haven’t been rewarded with an Ireland cap yet.

“It has always been a big goal of mine and still is a big goal of mine, I have no problem saying that,” says Buckley of his Ireland ambitions.

“Whether it happens for me, I don’t know and it’s outside of my control. All I can focus on is improving as a rugby player and playing at a high level, find little ways to improve. If Ireland comes on the back of that, then great and it is a big goal of mine, but I’ve been a lot more focused on the process of improving as a player and performing at a high level.”

And that much he has done with Connacht. He cites the influence of Dan McFarland and the outgoing Jimmy Duffy in their time as his forwards coach, as well as Muldoon and Kiwi hooker Tom McCartney on the playing front.

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Things have changed in Connacht during Buckley’s time. He remembers when the Sportsground didn’t even have a gym and winning a Pro12 title was just a pipe dream.

Now the province has aims of returning to that glorious peak they reached under Pat Lam. Buckley has signed another new deal to keep him with the province into next season and he hopes to help drive Connacht back to being trophy contenders.

“We’ve had some big results and beaten all the other Irish provinces who are the top three other teams in the league, we’ve beaten them all away,” says Buckley.

“That shows that when we get things right, we can be better than the other teams in the competition.

“We have a really good squad and our focus next year and going past that is being consistent with those performances. Instead of having dips, if we can be consistent, we should be aiming pretty high.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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