O'Halloran wants that 'special feeling' on Saturday

Connacht fullback Tiernan O'Halloran has been around the Sportsground for some seven years, and never experienced such an exciting time.

Like most of his teammates, he has had to be content with small incremental achievements, including the odd victory over Leinster. But not anymore.

"When we got the win over Munster in Thomond Park for the first time, there was a kind of hint that this was different, and that brought confidence to the lads," he says.

"And then, when we beat our points total in February, it was at that stage the realisation set in, that it was different to other seasons, and it was something special.

"Now it's my first final in competitive rugby. I played knock-out rugby last year, against Gloucester in the quarter-final and Gloucester in the play-off game. We won the U20 Six Nationsm but there’s no knock-out stages of that, so I’m really looking forward to it," O'Halloran says.

"It was the same as last week – it was built up. It was such a big game last week, the buzz around the city was incredible all week, and it was just building and building towards Saturday."

O'Halloran, whose father Aidan is an All Ireland football medalist, says Connacht had a "good chat last week about us sticking with what we do".

"That’s what got us to that stage already, we don’t need to get ahead of ourselves, or jump in with the hype or get carried away. You can’t let the occasion get to you. Yes, it’s an international stadium; yes, it’s a final that a lot of people haven’t been involved in before,but at the end of the day, it’s another game and we’ve just got to stick with what we do because that’s what’s got us here in the first place. "

And, he says, he is treating opponents Leinster the same way.

"We play them year in, year out, in the Sportsground and the RDS, and lads would have trained with them in Dublin during Ireland camp. It’s not at all that you’re in awe. You play international standard player, week in week out in this league. Again, it’s just that focus on trying to treat it as another game. Obviously the stakes are incredibly high, but we just have to do what we do. If you start focusing on who you’re playing against, rather than the collective, you’re going to get distracted and not play to the best of your ability, so you’ve just got to focus on yourself, and your teammates."

The former Connemara and Galwegian player says it's difficult to describe the what a win would mean for the province.

" It’s been such an incredible ride this season. You walk through town any day of the week now, and you’ll see kids all over the place wearing Connacht jerseys, whereas five years ago, you might see one Connacht jersey every three or four weeks. They’d be Gaelic football jerseys. That’s the way it’s gone.

"It will hopefully encourage younger guys coming up through school, and the Gaeltacht areas especially, to pick up a rugby ball, as well as a sliotar or whatever. Hopefully that will help to grow the province and the future of Connacht Rugby will get better. Success breeds success and I think we can continue to grow if we win this weekend."

Although only 25, O'Halloran is now one of the leaders both on and off the pitch.

"I’ve experienced some pretty low times here. Playing in front of just over a thousand people, with a couple of steps out there before the Clan Terrace was built. It’s been incredible to see the way it’s grown. Not just on the pitch, but off it as well.

"The crowd, and the way the whole province has got behind us – it really just gives you a good feeling. It’s very special; it’s hard to describe in words, it’s been an incredible journey but look, this weekend is all about those two hours of the game and whether we can get that win. It would be just such a special feeling."

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