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Dublin: 11°C Wednesday 21 October 2020

80-minute man McCartney intent on pushing Connacht back to best form after dip in Munster

The hooker dotted down a late consolation try in Thomond Park, but the Western province can guarantee pool success in England this weekend.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THE PHYSICAL TOLL of a five-day turnaround? Tom McCartney gave the notion extremely short shrift in the wake of Connacht’s loss to Munster on Saturday.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” said Westerners’ hooker, “it’s the inter-pros, and if you can’t get yourself up for inter-pros then you’re probably playing in the wrong competition.”

Perhaps McCartney wasn’t the best man to ask, because five days on from playing through all 80 minutes against Leinster, back-up hooker Shane Delahunt was again left as a conspicuous unused replacement on the Connacht bench as the closing minutes approached in Thomond Park.

McCartney meanwhile, was still looking spritely, forcefully putting his weight behind tackles and into rucks before getting a personal reward in the shape of a consolation try – albeit a brilliant one rounded off by Cillian Gallagher’s offload. Not that McCartney was looking at the touchdown as a silver lining on a disappointing night in Limerick.

“Not really. Doesn’t mean much when the scoreline’s like that.”

While the scoreboard on Saturday told a tale of a team falling off the pace in the second half, McCartney is more critical and laments the performance as a whole.

“We weren’t happy with where we were at at 10-6 at half-time. We had a little bit of a breeze behind us at half time and we felt that we left a couple of opportunities behind us in the first half.

“Once you are chasing the game against Munster, they are a really good team at strangling you. Unfortunately that’s what happened.”

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“You never want nights like that when the scoreline blows out like that, it’s always disappointing.

“For those young guys, they have worked really hard to get up to this level and earn their opportunity. It’s great for those guys to get that opportunity, but it’s probably disappointing for the rest of the team that we didn’t help make their debuts as memorable as they would have liked.”

The good news then, is that Connacht can look forward to a change of tempo and surroundings when they return to Challenge Cup action in Worcester on Saturday.

Tempers flare during the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Kieran Keane’s side enter the penultimate round of group fixtures seven points clear of the Premiership side in Pool 5, so a win or a draw at Sixways would cement their status as pool winners with a game to spare.

This season, the Challenge Cup offers more than just a slap on the back and a shiny pot for the winners, there’s a Champions Cup berth going too. And the way Connacht have performed in the weeks before Saturday’s under-strength loss in Limerick, there is growing confidence that they can take advantage of the secondary route to the top table.

“Everyone is enjoying what we are doing. You can probably get a little bit carried away when you look at the (39 – 13) scoreline and be very disappointed, but we have got to remember that we came away from the Leinster game thinking: ‘Jeez, we really let that one slip.’ Leinster are a pretty good team and then the week before that, we had a really good performance against Ulster.

“It (Worcester) is a massive game for us. It was a tough night for us, but we’ve got to lick our wounds and get ourselves up. It’s the old cliches, but it rolls on again next week and if we can go and get a good win then, in Europe, we’re looking really good.”

‘We got a bang on the nose’: Connacht’s second 40 frustrates Keane

All the Pro14 highlights as Leinster and Munster scorch into the high 30s

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Sean Farrell

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