Connacht fullback Tiernan O'Halloran plans to mark his 100th cap with a win against Glasgow on Saturday to secure a first Pro 12 home-semi.
The 26-year-old Galway-born player believes playing the current league champions in this final round fixture will help Connacht’s preparations for the next stage.
He said: “We are playing the most in-form team at the moment, the champions from last year, but it is actually good to be playing Glasgow at this stage of the season, because playing with that intensity builds nicely for the semi-final.”
O’Halloran returned from a quad injury to play in Connacht’s loss to Treviso, but says that result will not upset the squad ahead of Saturday’s crunch match.
“Worrying ? No. The way results turned out, we still have to win at home. Even if we had won that game, we would still have to beat Glasgow to secure a home semi-final because we wouldn’t have got the try bonus point.
“Pat [LAM]spoke about not having a defeatist approach to the game, so rather than looking for a losing bonus point now, we simply know we have to win the game. Yes, there is disappointment hat we lost the game, but there is no dent in our confidence.
“We are back home where we have lost only one game all year in front of a sell-out crowd. There is a massive buzz around here and everyone is good to go.”
Already through to the last four after that bonus-point 22-21 defeat in Italy, O’Halloran says Connacht are not looking at the negatives.
“If we lose to Glasgow, it would be two in a row, but that is not the way we think now. We have built up the confidence in ourselves, and we know the level of performance we can play at. If we perform on the day, we know we can beat the top teams here at the Sportsground, and with some of the lads coming back from injury, it should be a huge occasion here. Everyone is bouncing just ready to get the win.”
O’Halloran says their performance on the pitch has been matched by the increasing support in the province.
“The whole season the fans have got better and better, and in the last match against Munster, it really showed that the whole province is behind Connacht. The atmosphere in that match was absolutely incredible and the way the lads backed it up with that performance, you could see the kids going out the gates beaming ear to ear, just the buzz around the city.
“The way it has been building all year, it’s been brilliant, and this game is a sell-out two weeks before the game, which has never happened before, so it is really exciting for the lads. There are 40 lads out there trying to get a spot on the team for the weekend. It’s driving competition and and hopefully it will continue to drive us to get a big performance on Saturday.”
O’Halloran has had his share of injuries during his six years with Connacht, and was expected to be ruled out of this fixture with a torn quad.
“When the scan came back, they said six weeks, so that was pretty much going to be all season, but thankfully with the medial staff, and keeping my head down and working hard, I got back two weeks faster that I should have, so hopefully I can now finish stronger and contribute to the last couple of games.
The former Roscrea student was first brought into the academy at just 16 years old, and by age 21, he had already notched up 50 caps. It has been a long and sometimes frustrating road to get the second 50.
“There were a couple of times I didn’t think I’d make the 100 with a lack of form and injuries. It does get frustrating having got the 50 by age 21, you nearly get ahead of yourself a small bit. But as you go on you realise you just have to stick with it and you will get there. It wasn’t a matter of counting caps, but just getting back on the pitch and getting fit, and knowing that if I can get back to the form, that will get me those caps.
“It was never an issue as panicking, being more mature as a player and mature as a person led to better form. I’m very proud to get 100, having missed out on the last couple of years, but it’s a great honour for me being from Galway, something my family and friends will also be proud of.”