Connemara man O'Halloran looks to Connacht's Champions Cup return

The 28-year-old was back at his home club last week.

WHEN CONNACHT ANNOUNCED to their players where they’d be heading out to support summer camps around the province, Tiernan O’Halloran couldn’t have been happier to be designated to his home club.

The fullback was one of a group of around 18 players who visited Connemara RFC last week, leading an energetic bunch of children in a training session at the club’s beautifully-situated Monastery Field just outside Clifden.

There aren’t many rugby venues more scenic than Connemara’s and O’Halloran was delighted to be back on home soil.

Tiernan O'Halloran O'Halloran at Connemara RFC. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“I’d never been back actually representing Connacht at a summer camp and it was great on a lovely sunny day with 60 or 70 kids out there.

“We weren’t expecting those numbers. To give back on the community side of things is great, it gives us a bit of a lift as well. For me personally, it was brilliant to do that in my home town and home club.”

O’Halloran played for the Connemara Blacks from the age of eight all the way up to U18 level, before being forced to make a move when he joined the Connacht ranks, his contract meaning he had to play rugby in AIL Division 1A or 1B.

While never there in an official Connacht capacity before, the 28-year-old has been back to Clifden many times in recent years, helping their men’s team – who came close to a return to the AIL from the junior ranks last season – out by coaching in a few sessions.

“It’s fun and I know pretty much all the lads, so that’s been good craic as well. It’s helped me with my coaching and what I’m trying to do with that, so it was great experience.”

O’Halloran hopes to see Connemara rugby growing in the coming years, while his own coaching journey will continue with Galwegians this season, having linked up with former Connacht team-mate Andrew Browne.

Browne is now head coach of the Division 2B side and has convinced O’Halloran to join his team as backs coach.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, looking at the opportunity,” says O’Halloran. “As you get more experience in your playing career, you start picking up lots of things and you realise that you’ve got a lot in the bank to pass on.

Tiernan O’Halloran with kids from the summer camp O'Halloran with the kids at his home club. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“That’s something I’m excited about and hopefully I can help some young lads. I’ve only done about 10 or so sessions in pre-season but the games are coming up pretty quickly. It will be a bit of a juggle for me getting to games that clash with Connacht’s but I hope to get to quite a few and get to the training sessions and help out with them.”

While he was thinking about the offer, O’Halloran spoke to Connacht boss Andy Friend and attack coach Nigel Carolan, both of whom encouraged him to grab the opportunity.

“They said, ‘You’d be surprised how you look at the game differently when you start coaching,’ which I’ve definitely noticed already. It’s a different way even of describing things as a coach so hopefully that will benefit me as a player as well.”

Connacht have had a positive pre-season, says O’Halloran, with players returning from the summer break in excellent condition and putting down plenty of hard work.

There has been time for fun too, with the squad enjoying a bonding trip in a rather unexpected location at the end of July.

“There was a team bonding session planned and there were a few rumours going around that the destination might be Shane Delahunt’s farm down in Offaly,” explains O’Halloran.

“For the first week or two, we were laughing about it and then a week before, Friendy stood up at the meeting and said we were going to the Delahunt farm for a night of camping.”

O’Halloran says there “were a few city lads who didn’t know what to do with themselves” as the squad scrambled to gather tents and sleeping bags but they had a great trip with a barbeque, a band visiting for a sing-song, and plenty of glimpses of farm life.

A view of the Connacht team building event Connacht had a great night at the Delahunt farm. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“Within five minutes, Shane had about 20 of us loaded into the trailer behind the tractor and we got a tour of the farm. He sent us into a field and made us turn a few cows around so there were a few lost heads there too.”

The Guinness Pro14 season starts later this season due to the World Cup – Connacht kick-off away to Scarlets on 28 September – but the western province have a pre-season fixture today away to French side Oyonnax, an early chance to stretch the legs and try out some of their new tactics for the campaign ahead.

Looking ahead, Connacht are aiming to build on last season’s return to the Pro14 play-offs and make an impact as they welcome back Champions Cup rugby in a pool that also includes Toulouse, Montpellier and Gloucester.

“We’ve set our standard, we know we’re able to be looking for those play-offs and we’re hoping to go better with that next time,” says O’Halloran. “We feel the Champions Cup is going to help us in terms of the standard and pushing guys.

“Our squad numbers aren’t massive so it will be a big push for everyone this season. We need guys to step up that haven’t got as much game time in the last couple of seasons. We need them to perform. Friendy’s main thing was that this is going to be a big squad effort this season.”

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