S THE two-man band in the Connacht hospitality marquee wraps up another tune, fan Carol McKeon tries to explain a transformation of sorts. “It’s wonderful,” she says, part wondering what more needs to be said, before continuing. “I’ve been supporting rugby since I was a teenager and we’ve been up here since Eoin was five. I’ve seen the whole progression. It’s been fantastic, it’s just a great story the whole way.”
Beside her, son Eoin – a back-rower for the Irish province – looks on with a glint of mischief in his eye as his mam faces the journalistic questions for once.
Undaunted, she adds mischief of her own: “The change has been huge. For starters we’ve got thousands up here now – we had ten back in the day!”
This is Galway, on a day when Italian visitors Zebre not only have to face the might of Connacht but Mother Nature as well. Outside it’s not so much driving rain as joy-riding rain; that annoying, unpredictable, constant spray.
You remember the halcyon days of 2016, when Connacht won their first ever major trophy, slamming Leinster at Murrayfield to take the then Pro12 title? Of course you do, it was a magnificent, madcap, fun-packed season when Pat Lam and his boys did the business.
In 2017, after a so-so season, Lam left for Bristol. He was replaced by Kiwi Kieran Keane, who oversaw a slight decline before jumping ship too.
However, if you are just going to pot history, you ignore some of the roots.
“You could go on all day about what it’s been like when we weren’t doing well, what it’s been like when we were,” Eoin McKeon says as his mam gently sways to the opening bars of Paul Simon’s Me andJulioDownBytheSchoolyard.
“I think some people compare it coach to coach. A coach brings in a culture and a way of doing things, then everything in the organisation changes. That’s the biggest evolution the club has had.
“Some coaches come in and do really well and some have come in and not.
Talking to the opposition With Zebre’s Carlo Canna Travelling fans Kids from Genoa