Long-serving Connacht player Ronan Loughney is relishing taking part in not one, but two, of the most important occasions in his life in the next three weeks.
The popular prop is starting for Connacht against Glasgow in the province’s first Pro 12 semi-final, and two weeks later he will be celebrating his marriage to fiancée Finn.
But the 32-year-old says although there are a few distractions, it is all about trying to focus on the detail and preparation for Saturday’s big occasion first.
“It’s about getting that right because that is what has worked all season, and then the occasion will look after itself,” he says.
The Galway native was one of the first to join Connacht’s new Academy in 2004 and has been ever present in the squad since, learning his trade with Dan McFarland, Glasgow’s current forwards coach.
Although suffering his fair share of injuries during his 11 seasons, Loughney is now relishing the opportunity to play in the province’s most important match, taking over from the injured Denis Buckley.
“I feel for Denis, it’s tough, but something that has stood to us all season is that when one person goes down, another has come in to do the job. Obviously I feel for those guys not to have the experience of the semi-final, but they were just as important in getting us here.
“We had the play-off at this time last season and I was injured so it was frustrating not to be involved in that, but we have kicked on and it’s very satisfying to be involved at this stage.
“Since I started, the province has come a long way, and every time I play for Connacht it means an awful lot to me, but to be in this situation at the end of the season means an incredible amount.
“This is my 11th year with Connacht and in the last couple of years there have been massive strides. Back in those days I would never have considered being involved in a play-off, for us just getting away from the bottom three or four would have been a massive achievement, but it is testament to the work that has gone in over the last four or five years.”
As one of the leaders in the squad, Loughney believes the experience gained by the younger players has played its part in this year’s improvement.
“We have a young squad. Last year there were a lot of games when we were nearly there and that was reflected in the amount of bonus points. I suppose a mixture of the young guys maturing, and us nailing and understanding the different systems that Pat [Lam] has brought in - that has made the difference in getting some games over the line.
“Connacht players were in the news recently for their attempted rescue of Robbie Henshaw’s laptop allegedly stolen from his car, which Pat Lam said was a reflection of the squad looking out for each other on and off the field.
And Loughney says the camaraderie among the players is a strong feature of the Connacht squad.
“One of the things Pat has talked about is unity as a team, and building relations. There is a great team ethos, great camaraderie, and for me it is as good as it’s ever been since I have been here, and that goes on the pitch as well. Everyone has everybody’s back and it’s great to be involved in. It’s not a conscious thing, everyone just seems to get on, and it is something we are just lucky to have I suppose.
“Unlike Glasgow, the current champions, who have featured at this stage of the season on several occasions, this is a new experience for most Connacht players, and keeping the focus is a top priority,” says Loughney.
“Trying not to over-hype and and I’m trying to prepare like any other game, It might sound repetitive, but focusing on the process and detail in training will give us confidence going in.
“He is also confident his fiancée has everything under control for the impending nuptials in Kerry on June 4.
“There’s a bit of that going in the evening all right [wedding plans], it’s a bit of switch off after rugby at the moment.
“It’s fair to say my fiancée is doing all the organising.”
One plan, however, has been left to Loughney - making sure she gets to the church on time in his new cool retro VW.
“It is something I wanted for a while so this year I managed to figure out how to get it. I brought it from the UK. She shot down the idea of honeymooning in it, but it will be bringing her to the church.”