Faloon is playing against his home province on Stephen's Day. James Crombie/INPHO
festive diet

'I'll be tucking into my turkey' - Connacht's Faloon on striking a balance over Christmas

Connacht play Leinster and Ulster in a busy December schedule.

FOR THE AVERAGE person, the upcoming festive period is when they can enjoy a couple of extra roast potatoes, a few more pints of beer and countless slivers of Christmas cake without feeling like a gluttonous pig.

Rugby players don’t really have the same luxury and for the provinces, the next couple of weeks are among the busiest of their season as their Christmas Day is sandwiched between two inter-provincial clashes.

Connacht have an even more intense time with back-to-back away games against Leinster and Ulster, which will be crucial in their quest for a top six place in the Pro12.

Connacht flanker Willie Faloon played for his home province of Ulster for four seasons before moving out west in 2012 so the Stephen’s Day clash against his former team means a lot to him.

Faloon talked to about how he plans to balance rugby with the rest of his Christmas plans and also which team his family support when he lines out against his home province.

“Some guys might be having a salad but I’ll be tucking into my turkey,” Faloon said with a laugh.

“I’ll take it easy on the beer though. Our nutritionist hasn’t given us any restrictions for Christmas day but if he did I probably wouldn’t follow them!

“The inter-pros are always very exciting. I’ll be playing against my home province so I’ll probably stay at my family home for Christmas day and then drive up to Ravenhill myself.

“My family will be wearing green though.”

Before the Christmas inter-pros begin, Connacht have their return Challenge Cup fixture against Bayonne to get out of the way. And that is an accurate way of putting it, because with no Champions Cup qualification to be gained from winning the second-tier tournament, you can imagine it is a bit of a chore for the players.

Willie Faloon goes over for a try that is disallowed 25/10/2014 Faloon has been battling with Eoin McKeon for the openside position all season. Phil Mingo / Pinnacle Phil Mingo / Pinnacle / Pinnacle

Faloon didn’t rubbish the tournament but the different levels of importance being placed on it by the various teams must be a source of frustration.

“It is and it isn’t,” Faloon said when asked if it is annoying that most French sides play their B teams in the Challenge Cup.

“They [Bayonne] didn’t bring their best players but they will have a stronger team out this weekend. It doesn’t have the prestige of the Champions Cup. There are different variants of how seriously some teams are taking it. Some teams are taking it very seriously. For us, it is a chance of some silverware and that would be great. For us though, I think we are able to do some rotation and rest a few people but still have a strong team.”

It is Faloon’s third year with the westerners and by far the most successful, with Connacht entrenched in the Champions Cup qualification places as we near the halfway stage in the Pro12.

The openside can’t point to one seismic moment during the summer when he believed this year would be different, but reckons Connacht’s development has been gradually building to the run of performances they have delivered this year.

“I don’t think there is one main reason for the leap forward but a load of small things,” Faloon said.

“There’s nutrition, fitness and some lads are getting near the end of their career. I think we have been improving and building towards this for a while.”

That gradual development was accelerated by how players like Robbie Henshaw, Darragh Leader, Kieran Marmion and Denis Buckley improved from promising young guns to key contributors on the team.

Willie Faloon There's a strong sense of camaraderie in the Connacht ranks this year. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

With so many starters in their early 20′s, Faloon agrees that while he’s only 28, he sometimes feels 38 surrounded by all the young lads. Unfortunately for Faloon, he’s at the stage where the latest trends being discussed pass him by a bit – he’s an N64 in a PS4 world.

“I always had that problem,  I never really knew what the new hip things were,” he laughs.

“I walk in creaking some days and I look at the young guys and think, ‘where did all the years go?’”

Faloon has been in and out of the team this season as he battles with Galwegian Eoin McKeon for the number seven jersey. While it would be easier for Faloon if McKeon played elsewhere, he doesn’t mind the head-to-head battle to get into the first XV.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to play every week but it is good to have someone to compete with,” Faloon said.

“It brings you on as a player. It is exciting and it pushes you. That might have been the problem in years past, we might have had a set 15 but now there is more competition.”

Originally published 07.30 12 December.

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