By Linley MacKenzie (this article first appeared in the Galway Advertiser)
New Connacht Rugby coach Kieran Keane, relishing a return to head coaching, is confident his new club “can do anything” in pursuit of their ambitions.
Having lost out on the job to succeed Glasgow’s Dave Rennie at the Chiefs in New Zealand, the opportunity to take over the Connacht reins after Pat Lam’s departure was the perfect opportunity.
‘I had aspirations to replace Dave – the reason I went to the Chiefs was to become the leader of that organisation, and that didn’t happen. It came down to a two-horse race and I came second [to Taranaki’s Colin Cooper]. It was always my intention to go back to being a head coach, and when I got that opportunity, particularly here, it was a good one.”
It enabled him to come to Ireland – his great great grandparents having hailed from Waterford – and after a week with his new club, the self confessed dreamer and innovator, believes Connacht “can do anything”.
“This organisation, the players, and myself, we all want to be the best we can be and want to move forward. I am a terribly competitive human at the best of times. We can do anything,” he says.
The former attack coach with the Chiefs says it is all about reaching potential.
“We are going to do whatever we can. We are going to be better each day, and enjoy each other’s company, and we are going to grow off the pitch and on the pitch, and it’s going to be good.”
Keane says Connacht fans can expect to see some of the attacking flair which became the hallmark of the Waikato side’s success.
“That was my job at the Chiefs, to invoke the change there, and we had a lot of success with that. There will be a flavour of that.” However the wily 63-year-old says expansive rugby will also be balanced.
“You have to play to your strengths and hide your weaknesses – it’s the way you have to do it.”
Former All Black
A former All Black and teacher by profession, Keane grabbed headlines in New Zealand when he guided lowly Tasman from the second division of provincial rugby to the final in the top flight.
“In the past I have been coaching battlers and teams that were probably not the rock stars and I had a lot of success, and these guys mirror that a lot,” he said. “I’m one of a few of a few who have done it that way anyway. My jobs at Tasman – it’s a very similar population, same economically, same budget – in fact it’s a little less in relation with the big boys – so it fits well with me.
“There is aspiration [here] and that is wonderful, I am aligned with that. I always want people to be the best they can. I have a lot of admiration for young people and players, they have kept me young, so this just fitted me, and the fact that it is in Ireland was a blessing as well.”
The new coach has already identified lock Ultan Dillane as an “impressive man”, whose approach to the game is “music to my ears”, while new recruit from Australia, Jarrad Butler, is a “unique individual who can cover, 6, 7 and 8”.
“I have a couple of thoughts where he might shine, he’s skilful, an intelligent young man and natural leader, so I’m really happy about him,” Keane commented.
Also back training are Tiernan O’Halloran after a knee operation, and Bundee Aki, who could be ready for the second PRO14 fixture
“He’s [Aki] progressing really well, in fact we have a bridle on him, trying to hold him back, so yeah he’s champing at the bit and looking pretty good.”
John Muldoon will continue to captain the side – an “absolutely easy” decision says Keane.
The mad professor
From a fanatical rugby country, no suprise then Keane, AKA KK, is known as the “mad professor”, and for that he makes no apology.
“I dream about rugby, and I dream about it when I am awake and when I am askeep, and I have that mantle because I’m always trying to think ahead, to innovate.
“Innovation has always been part of my creed about playing the game, and sometimes when listening to me you can get lost because I’m away with the fairies on it. I love the game passionately, I love the whole thing about rugby, it’s a big part of my life, so dreaming about it when I am awake and asleep and trying to innovate, that is part of KK, that is what he is about.”
Connacht are looking at three locations, including The Sportsground, as a future home for a new stadium.
“We’re at the phase now where we have three potential locations, they’re fully scoped out, fully costed, drawings done, all of that and it really is a case of selecting which location we’d go with and then progress it to the next stage,” Ruane says,
“Unfortunately, and this has been the case for a while, we’re working on other people’s pace, so we’re dependent on others.”
The current home, which involves negotiating with the Irish Greyhound Board, is likely to be the preferred option, but a move to a new site, or one which involves a ground share with Galway United are also believed to be possibilities.
Although there had been plans to add an upper deck to the existing Clan stand, Ruane says it does not make sense to utilise that option while a new stadium is being built.
“It wouldn’t make financial sense, because it doesn’t add a lot more in capacity. Shelter is what most people look for and it has to be part of a plan fit for purpose.”
Ruane says it is frustrating.
“We know where we want to get to in terms of a stadium, in terms of the finished product, and you just want it to happen, but we’ll keep pushing it because it is absolutely crucial to Connacht Rugby in terms of us achieving success in a sustainable manner into the future.”