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'You know he's a competitor, but this is a new level for Kieran'

The first half of Kieran Marmion’s season was an emotional rollercoaster, but he looks like a player in his prime after the summer break.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

AS EVER WITH Connacht, they provide no shortage of variety in their game and each of their four tries against Ulster in this afternoon’s return to rugby had its own particular charms.

John Porch’s came courtesy of a terrific Jack Carty assist. Bundee Aki gleefully trampled Ian Madigan for his and Jack Aungier’s debut score was a fine forward effort.

But none made the current crop feel like the 2016 vintage quite like Kieran Marmion darting onto an inch-perfect grubber kick.

The try for the scrum-half was merely the cap on a day when the 28-year-old seemed to not only relish, but command every minute of action he was involved in.

The first-half of the season, pre-lockdown, was a tumultuous time in a variety of senses for Marmion. He probably didn’t need a five month break, but a break has served him well none the less.

Roll the clock back through the year and Marmion is omitted from Ireland’s World Cup plans. Caolin Blade’s brilliant performances take away any certainty over his position as Connacht’s front-line 9 and his chance to move to European champions Saracens was scuppered by their salary cap fiasco.

Throw a back injury in among that and it’s more than a few hurdles to overcome.

August 2020 and Marmion very much looks like a man entering the prime of his career.

“We had a lot of blokes come back from the Covid period different men,” Connacht coach Andy Friend said after watching his side arrest their inter-pro slump in style against Ulster.

“Kieran was one of them. he came back, you could see he had a real hunger about him.

I’ve only known him for two years. In those two years, you know he’s a competitor, but this is a new level for Kieran.

“I just thought his performance out there was brilliant. He shut down a couple of really good Ulster attacks just through his hunger and his ability to put his body on the line.”

“With every minute that passed (that) he was putting his body in front, getting up and saying ‘I’m still good to go’, he just kept gaining in confidence.”

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conor-oliver-kieran-marmion-and-jack-carty-celebrate-after-jack-aungier-scored-a-try Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Coaches and players were prepared for the restart period to be a physically punishing one with athletes put under intense pressure after the extended spell away from the game. Yet the sight of Gavin Thornbury being carefully lifted onto a stretcher came as another jarring reminder of the danger involved in rugby.

The lock was able to issue a thumbs up on his way to the tunnel and hospital, Friend reported that he was at least awake and talking after the worrying head blow.

Thornbury aside, it was a day of massive positives for Connacht. Their fluid attacking game in full effect on the first day back and a resilient defensive effort to back it up and keep a title-chasing Ulster from taking a lead at a crucial stage in the second half.

“That was a crucial period,” Friend noted of the stint Jonny Murphy spent in the sin-bin, a period that began with Ulster pulling the score back to 21-20.

“Two sets of players who hadn’t played in five months, lots of cramp, it’s reasonably warm in Dublin today. That just showed the hunger, to dig deep in that period, which the boys did.

“Some really strong carries. Ulster were coming off the line hard to try and win that ball back. We were really pleased with our discipline and patience there.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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