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'I'd love to come back, and to keep that door open I need to keep relevant'

Connacht attack coach Nigel Carolan is set to leave the province this summer.

Connacht attack coach Nigel Carolan during a training session today.
Connacht attack coach Nigel Carolan during a training session today.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

LAST WEEK CONNACHT attack coach Nigel Carolan announced he will leave the Sportsground at the end of the season, closing an incredible 26 year long association with the province.

Those are ties which do not break easily, so it is no surprise to hear Carolan say that he’d love his coaching journey to eventually lead him back to Connacht.

While Carolan says he does not yet know his next move, speaking at a Connacht press briefing this morning he explained that the decision to part ways is based on a desire to experience something different after so many years in such a familiar environment. 

The former Connacht Academy and Ireland U20s coach said he hopes the next step in his coaching career will keep him ‘relevant’ in the highly-competitive world of professional coaching, while also making clear his desire to one day return to the Sportsground. 

“It’s always been part of the plan to be fair,” Carolan said of his impending exit.

“When I stepped away from the Academy and into the professional coaching, I knew there was a shelf-life on that and it’s a shelf-life of relevance as well I think.

“You’ve got to keep yourself fresh, and you’ve got to be fair to your players as well with your messaging. It does tend to get watered down after a while, and someone else could say the same thing and it just brings a bright spark to the programme again.

So I just felt myself that I’ve been a part of this bubble for the last 26 years – at some stage I’d love to come back – and in order to keep that door open I feel that I need to keep relevant, I need to be fresh and I need to get my eyes opened to what else is out there in the rugby world and I need to be challenged in my own views. 

“The West of Ireland, it’s a small enough bubble and we see the game though a certain lens, and I just need that challenged as well. 

“Friendy (Andy Friend, Connacht head coach) and Willie (Ruane, Connacht CEO), it was no surprise to them, as I said it has always been part of the plan, and we just feel the time is right.”

Carolan was speaking alongside Friend as part of a joint press conference ahead of Saturday’s Challenge Cup round of 16 tie away to Leicester Tigers.

Connacht go into the game without a number of key players, with Bundee Aki and Jarrad Butler both suspended for the trip to Welford Road.

The province have also confirmed that Jack Aungier is rehabbing a neck injury and has yet to return to training, while Conor Dean (shoulder), second row Sean O’Brien  (head) and Tiernan O’Halloran (quad) are all 2-3 weeks away from being available for selection.

Add to that Sam Arnold (chest), Tom Farrell (knee), Stephen Fitzgerald (knee), Cillian Gallagher (shoulder) and Quinn Roux (shoulder), who are all continuing their rehabilitation from long term injuries, and it certainly looks a daunting task against a Tigers side who have won all four of their home games in this year’s tournament, boasting an average winning margin of 26 points.

“Leicester are a very good side, and we’re heading to their home turf. One thing in our favour is our away form has been good this year,” Friend said.

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“But this is a different challenge. This is knock-out rugby, and up against a team who I think is starting to find real form. 

“We don’t have those (unavailable players), so that’s the reality of what we’ve got. We’ve got other quality and that’s what we’ve been building these last three years, the quality squad that when certain players drop out, other players get their opportunity to step up and pretty much to a man they tend to take that opportunity on board.

“So I’m excited by the team that we are going to select, but it’s definitely going to be a big task for us.” 

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