It’s a very long way from the Aviva… It’s a long way from any of the provincial grounds on this island, but like the rest of them it sits in silence for the week… waiting. Come in to Galway city down College Road and the Galway Sportsground appears… It’s a greyhound stadium you see – with a few terraces for the standing and shouting. You wouldn’t think it could light up like it does from that description. It’s a bloody cauldron when it comes alive and it’s very tribal. The ground is about as exposed as it gets just standing there against a cold black backdrop… Long way from home ain’t ya? It suggests to its visitors. The night and winter elements howl on Galway as their first stop off the Atlantic Ocean and the rain will slap you on both sides of the face. No matter, the wind is likely strong enough to dry you before home time or celebration time. It’ll chill your bones, and you can hear other bones crunch, you can hear the shouts. The “my ball”‘s and “get up”‘s from the field and “for fk sake lads come on” from the stands. Sure it’s nicer when the sun hits your arms and the day is dry and still – the type of climate that makes Galway stunning, but poorer weather suits better to stories of tough battles: the ones this team are very used to. People watch the match shout their team on and have the craic with friends afterwards… as it should be.
Connacht has long been the forgotten province by certain factions. It’s a tough place but it’s a beautiful place too; in its landscape it possesses flowers that grow between rocks and that says a lot. This particular arena stands to give off the aura of a place where people know that they’re not first on the agenda at most meetings, that by many they’re not rated and they’ve come out to fight the reputation no matter the opposition. They’ve come to battle to show they exist – out on the edge of Europe covered by the breath of the Atlantic. They will their team on, because they know the struggles, they know the glory, they know the pain, they understand the game and they’ve seen all manner of events, ups and downs unfold on the green field before them.
The Clan Terrace is where the Connacht season ticket holders go. It’s also where they put the opposition coaches box. Where a large group of Connacht’s most enthusiastic supporters take their positions. They’re not catching any passes tonight… but Jesus, if you let them they would – and they’d run at you too. Passion is a term thrown around a lot but you can feel it in Galway. Really, you can. Sure you’d need it following a side with more downs than ups and a side so often robbed of their finer possessions. You’d be rightly pissed off, and you’d be glad of an opportunity to put it up to any side.
I stood once in the Clan Terrace beside the coaching box, we had to make way for them to go up and down. It was the Llanelli Scarlets who were over.
“Excuse us fellas.”
“Sorry to disturb you.”
It was a funny mixture from the coaches…. soft Welsh tones, friendly voices, massive shoulders and cauliflower ears. It was funny more than anything because there was one coach climbing the stairs and passing the green jerseys sheepishly enough….. he was reassured by a supporter in a Connacht hat, Connacht Scarf and Connacht jacket:
“Come on up lad, we haven’t done anything to anyone yet.”
In the Sportsground you feel out in elements… you feel out on the pitch. There’s nothing superstarry about the ground, it all comes from within. At the moment I’m cosy… at the moment I’m warm. I’m sat in an office on this grey December day dreaming of Friday in the cold or wind or rain; whatever I’m greeted with roaring on Connacht from the battleground… cold, merry and eager. And, I won’t be making any runs… but yep, I would if I had too.