Connacht coach Pat Lam said that a series of recent incidents, including the sudden death of Munster coach Anthony Foley and heart surgery by his own father back in New Zealand, were the key factors in him deciding to leave the Sportsground a year early and take up a lucrative offer from Bristol, writes John Fallon at the Sportsground.
Lam said that attending the funeral of his friend Foley made him think about his own family and what would happen to them if they ever found themselves in a similar position.
The coach, in a deeply personal and lengthy address to the media at the Sportsground this afternoon, pointed out that when he arrived in Ireland less than four years ago with a wife and five children after being sacked in Auckland Blues, Matt O’Connor was in charge at Leinster, Rob Penney in Munster and Mark Anscombe in Ulster.
All three are now gone, the last of them 18 months ago, in the uncertain world of professional rugby coaching.
Lam confirmed that another club, identified only as being from the northern hemisphere, had come in with a strong offer last year buy he and his wife Steph believed that the best future for their family was in Galway.
That changed though with the death of Axel Foley and other events in his life.
“I went to Killaloe and the removal, saw Olive and the two kids. Axel was in my environment. I could picture the situation. I’m the second Pat Lam, my grandfather died at 55 when I was nine. My dad was going through a triple by-pass recently.
“Driving home, if that was me, what would happen to Steph and the kids?”
Lam and his wife have five children, the eldest Mitch (currently on loan from Galwegians to Nottingham) is 24 today, and Lam said this was an offer he could not turn down given the security it offered to his family.
“Bristol was one of those who spoke with me. I love the challenge of creating history. St Peter’s College, my schools team: we were the first team to win the Auckland title. With Samoa in 1995, my last international year, we were the first away team to win at the Millennium. At Newcastle, we got promoted and won the Premiership: it was our first trophy ever. Then Northampton, first trophy in 120 years. Then Auckland and obviously my time here at Connacht Rugby. That is what I love doing.”
“In my whole process I look at my rugby career because I am responsible for my family too. Are you ok to go to Galway? Are you ok to go to Newcastle? And when I came back from Bristol, we put it all on the table and we said: No. We are happy here. We love it here. “Two weeks ago, Bristol put an offer down and it was quite significant. They pretty much said can you come here and do what you did in Connacht. That completely flipped my decision from rugby to family.”
Lam confirmed that a six-month minimum notice clause in his contract was the reason he announced his departure this week, just as Connacht are heading into two key Champions Cup games against Wasps.
Chief executive Willie Ruane admitted that the shock news was ‘unsettling’ but that Connacht would deal with it and that the players would come to terms with it.
“I don’t see unrest but I appreciate it is unsettling. I met (the players) and their approach was immediately this weekend, the next job. And I’m hearing positive things from players in contract negotiations. Their attitude to Connacht hasn’t changed, they know Pat is moving on but Connacht are going places.”
Lam said reaching the Champions Cup for the first time off their own steam was a major boost and that their focus would not be on the Wasps’ games.
“I am proud that we are in Champions Cup rugby and we have earned the right to be there. We have two massive games coming up so this is why I want this out of the way.
“I’m proud that in the same calendar year we beat Ulster, Munster and Leinster. Before I came here Munster was my favourite team but I feel proud now that we have reached their levels.
“I am proud that this year we have record season ticket holders and that behind the scenes people are working hard to get a stadium fit for them.”
“I want to make it really clear that I have never been about money. But the offer allows me to look after my family and to continue in a coaching environment very similar to Connacht. And they have made it clear where they would like to go. But where Connacht is and Bristol is are poles apart in the sense that Connacht are on that journey.”