After the game they will grab a quick bite to eat with their Munster counterparts and will be back in Galway by midnight, probably having analysed the game on their laptops on the way home on the bus.
In 1986, when Connacht won for the only time in Thomond Park, the squad arrived in dribs and drabs on Friday night, played the match on Saturday, and left with hangovers on Sunday afternoon to head home for work the following morning.
That 11-9 win might as well have been 129 years ago rather than than three decades ago, so little comparison holds with today’s fixture.
Noel Mannion, who won the first of his 16 Irish caps two years after the famous win, points out how different that era was.
Connacht had lost their opening game 41-6 to Leinster at the Sportsground, had been beaten 37-6 in Ravenhill and Mannion doesn’t think they trained in the two weeks between that loss in Ulster and what turned out to be their first and only win at Thomond Park. Instead, the players would go back to train and play with their clubs in between inter-pro games.
The Connacht players came from all over for the game, some from Ballinasloe, Athlone, Ballina, Galway and Dublin (where eight of the starting 15 played their club rugby), while John O’Driscoll, an uncle of Brian O’Driscoll, travelled from England.
“We met up in the Two Mile Inn in Limerick on the Friday evening, that would have been the norm. We went then to one of the clubs, it might have been Garryowen, for a run-out and then back to the hotel for something to eat.”
And pints? “Yes, of course, but we wouldn’t do the dog on it. Most lads would have a few pints and head to bed. We’d get up for breakfast, do some line-outs in the car park and run through a few other things and then head to the match. That’s what all the teams did then,” said Mannion.
A 6-6 draw in 1974 at the venue was Connacht’s best ever result there before. Some of those in action in ‘86 were household names, others were yet to make their mark.
Three of them, Ciaran Fitzgerald and Munster’s Eddie O’Sullivan and Michael Bradley, went on to coach Connacht; Fitzgerald and O’Sullivan subsequently taking charge of the Irish side, Donal Lenihan managing both Ireland and the Lions.
Current Munster manager Niall O’Donovan came on as a replacement for Munster, Robbie Henshaw’s uncle Davy Henshaw was at tighthead for Connacht while one of his current off-field advisors Michael Cosgrove was in the centre for the visiting side, who were coached by Athlone prop PJ Dwyer.
Conor McCarthy, whose son Nick captained the Irish U20s this year, was at scrum-half for Connacht. MP Farrell of UCG played his first and only inter-pro for Connacht that day, with Liam Mulcahy of Wanderers the hero with a late try to win it.
“We knew it was a pretty significant win but it probably meant more to the older guys and the alickadoos who had been going down there for years and never won,” said Mannion.
“There were less than 300 people at the match. It was cold and windy, the ball went into back gardens a few times. But we were always good for one good result every year.
“The celebrations went on long into the night, but it would have been a raucous night regardless of the result.
“One of the clubs would host the post-match meal. There would be speeches and presentations and a big top table. We would lash into all of that and then hit the town with the Munster lads. We would bring them out when they would come to Galway, that’s the way it was. It has, of course, changed completely,” added Mannion, who operates a sports shop in his native Ballinasloe.
He hopes to make it to the match this evening but unlike 1986, the Connacht team and himself should be home long before Sunday.
P Murray try; M Kiernan pen, con Connacht: M Fitzgibbon, L Mulcahy tries, B Moran pen MUNSTER: P Murray (Old Crescent); E O’Sulllvan (Garryowen), M Finn (Constitution), M Kiernan (Dolphin), G O’Kelly (Dolphin); R Keyes (Constitution), M Bradley (Constitution); T Healy (Shannon), D Kingston (Dolphin), P McCarthy (Dolphin); D Lenihan (Constitution), R Costello (Old Crescent); G McMahon (Shannon), B Spillane (Bohemians), P O’Hara (Sunday’s Well). Replacements: T Lenihan (Bohemians) for Keyes (22 mins), N O’Donovan (Shannon) for Spillane (27 mins).
H O’Toole (Corinthians); B Moran (Waterpark), L Mulcahy (Terenure), M Cosgrave (Wanderers), MP Farrell (UCG); C Dunn (Wanderers), C McCarthy (UCG); T Clancy (Lansdowne), C Fitzgerald (St Mary’s), D Henshaw (Athlone); M Tarpey (St Mary’s), M Moylett (Shannon); N Mannion (Wanderers), J O’Driscoll (London Irish), M Fitzgibbon (Dublin University).
O Doyle (Leinster).