Nigel Carolan is to end his virtually unbroken 26-year association with Connacht by opting to step down as the backs coach of his native province at the end of this season in order to pursue new coaching challenges in the game.
Formerly Connacht’s academy manager for 14 years, while dovetailing this role with stints as the Irish Under-20s backs coach, the Connacht Eagles coach and then head coach of the Irish Under-20s (reaching the final of the 2016 World Championships) Carolan is in his fourth season as the province’s backs coach.
A tidy, highly efficient and hard-working left-winger with both Corinthians and Galwegians, Carolan played on the Connacht side coached by Warren Gatland which reached the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals in the 1997-98 season, scoring tries in both of the pool wins over a Lions-studded Northampton side coached by Ian McGeechan. He was forced to retire from playing at the age of 26 due to a neck injury.
But for the worldwide decline in the IT industry in the early noughties, Carolan and his wife Siobhan might never have returned from Australia, which in turn led him into a career in coaching. But as in stepping up from the academy role, he’s always been of a mind to push himself.
“When I signed my most recent contract over two years ago, I made it clear to Connacht that it would be my last before embarking on a new challenge. I have been involved with Connacht Rugby for most of the last 26 years of my life. While I have loved every day of it and I cannot speak highly enough of the people I’ve worked with, the time has come for a new experience in rugby.
“I’m at the stage of my coaching career where I need to challenge myself in a new environment and gain new perspectives, so I’m excited by what the future holds for Siobhan, Milly, Ben and myself.
"Andy Friend and Willie Ruane have known of my plans for a long time and have been 100 per cent supportive of me every step of the way. I'd like to sincerely thank them for their support these past few years while I came to this decision, and I'd like to wish them and all the players and coaches every success in the years ahead."
Friend said Carolan made a big impression in the three years they’ve worked together.
“I first met Nigel shortly after moving to Connacht and I cannot speak highly enough of the three years since then. He is an excellent coach who has all the credentials to succeed elsewhere, and I wish him every success wherever he goes.
“The Connacht traditions of playing an attractive, exciting brand of attacking rugby continued under Nigel, and that style will continue to be implemented in the years ahead.”
Ruane, the Connacht CEO, thanked Carolan for his many years of dedication to his home province.
“While we are obviously disappointed to see Nigel go, we fully understand and appreciate why he felt the time was right to move on. We’ve been aware of his wish to try something new for some time, and the way he has conducted himself every day since then has been as professional and dedicated as ever.
“It’s important to also acknowledge Nigel as one of our own, having come through the Connacht pathway both in his playing and coaching careers. He has given his home province a huge amount and on behalf of everyone at Connacht Rugby I’d like to sincerely thank him for the commitment he has shown and for everything he has accomplished during his time here.”
A further announcement confirming the Connacht coaching team into next season will be made in due course.