MAY ANNOUNCEMENTS WILL always be precariously balanced in between historical landmarks.
And yet yesterday’s long list of departures from Connacht could only seem stark in contrast to the celebratory mood 24 hours earlier as their social media channels were flooded with memories on the four-year anniversary of their Pro12 title victory over Leinster.
Three men among the dozen departees started the unforgettable 20-10 win. Niyi Adeolokun scored a thrilling try. Eoin McKeon and Tom McCartney were fierce in contact as the men of the west created the sweetest imaginable finale to a season.
McCartney takes his leave from the game at 34 after making a massive impact in Galway and might feel hard done by to miss out on a Test cap through his remarkable consistency backed by a phenomenal engine.
Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Connacht must have been loathe to part ways with a native westerner such as McKeon, a battling veteran of 137 matches for his home province over a decade of service.
Adeolokun stands out as a shock among the list of 12. His rise was a hallmark of the Pat Lam era having been plucked from Tony Smeeth’s Trinity setup to ultimately earn an Ireland cap a little over two years after turning pro.
Grassroots to green shirts indeed.
The Dubliner was a dazzling element in a thrilling Connacht attack and the Sportsground intuitively rose to their feet whenever the wing was given any patch of open ground to exploit. Unfortunately, his final outings could not do justice to his existing highlight reel.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
At 29, he would surely have an array of options in any ordinary off-season, but that will come as cold comfort to Connacht supporters as more of their title winning side move on to another challenge. Not that they’re not used to it. In some ways it’s the story of that side.
Robbie Henshaw and AJ MacGinty were already bowing out when they helped bring silverware west of the Shannon and, of the 15 who started in Murrayfield on 28 May 2016, news from 29 May 2020 whittles the remaining number down to six.
Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane are all that remain of the pack. Tiernan O’Halloran, Matt Healy, Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion from the backline – and the exit has called to a few of those men too.
Yet while they are in Connacht, they are potent weapons to have whenever rugby returns in whatever guise it can take. Last week’s announcement of new signings still signals Galway as a place to excite and energise talent that has slipped through the cracks in better-resourced provinces.
Every sporting body is facing reams of challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic with gate receipts not existing in the foreseeable future and a recession potentially leaving all revenue thin on the ground.
Connacht have always had to cut their cloth accordingly, but they will hope the hard work put into their academy and structures will be robust enough to lean on.
Perhaps we’ll even see the knock-on value of 2016′s impossible dream, a generation inspired by it.