Steady rock now required in a sea of change
ON RUGBY:Eric Elwood’s departure highlights how Connacht will need a calming hand to guide them through what look to be tricky times ahead, writes GERRY THORNLEY
TOMORROW NIGHT at 9.30pm, TG4 will screen The West’s Awake, the fly-on-the-wall, hour-long documentary on Connacht rugby. Given unprecedented access to an Irish rugby side over the course of their historic entree into Heineken Cup rugby last season, and apparently a good deal more besides, it is a fascinating and, as it transpires, uncannily timely insight into professional rugby in Europe’s westernmost outpost.
The audience applauded roundly at last Wednesday’s premiere in Galway, though given it was preaching to the converted that is perhaps not so surprising. Some of us wouldn’t mind a two or two-and-a-half hour version which, sold on DVD, would promote the brand even more. The West’s Awake gives a wonderful sense of place and, from the very outset, a sense of the odds Connacht are up against and how much Eric Elwood was the heartbeat of the effort.
These are interesting and exciting times in Connacht, but now they are a little nervier too. Progress on the pitch has been met by progress off it, with improvement in playing strength, performances and results matched by the building of the Clan Terrace, overdue corporate hospitality and other ground improvements, all of which has prompted improved attendances year on year.
That heightened local identity with the team, though Elwood would hate to claim so himself, is in large measure down to the local hero made good. But now the main man is leaving.
Maybe it’s our nature, and our innate inclination for gossip that goes with an island mentality, but quite why Elwood’s explanation hasn’t been widely taken at face value is extraordinary. If there’s one thing we know about Elwood it is that he is as straight as a die. He has retained his innate good humour through the last two and a bit years but he was also looking increasingly careworn. It’s one thing being arguably your province’s greatest ever player, and even being an assistant coach for five years. It’s quite another though, being the Director of Rugby in the ultra-demanding environment of professional team sport.
Being a heart-on-sleeve man of Connacht through and through, Elwood would have felt this onerous responsibility more heavily than anyone. Galway is a fantastic city, the most cosmopolitan in Ireland, but it is still a bubble, all the more so for someone like Elwood. There would have been little or no escape.