Carolan in search for pastures not so green

Connacht former player and coach leaves ‘lasting legacy’

Nigel Carolan has forged an interesting coaching career.

Nigel Carolan has forged an interesting coaching career.

Nigel Carolan, always steeped in green, takes flight after some 26 years with Connacht to become a better coach.

Like most great coaches, Carolan wants to expand his horizons to learn, to be challenged.

It was always part of the plan since Carolan retired from the playing ranks of Connacht due to injury and became part of the Sportsground team, first as a development officer with the province before being appointed Connacht’s first academy manager in 2004.

The academy became his pride and joy, developing players such as Robbie Henshaw and Jack Carty, and seeing them playing for Ireland - the perfect examples of "grass roots to green shirts". He soon made a name with the Ireland U20s - the highlight of that tenure was finishing runners-up in the 2016 World Championship. Players such as Jacob Stockdale, Hugo Keenan, Johnny McPhillips, who now plays for Connacht's European opponents Leicester, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Max Deegan, Joey Carberry, Ross Byrne, Conor Oliver,Gary Ringrose, and Connacht's Conan O'Donnell, Stephen Fitzgerald, Matthw Bryne, Stephen Kerins, all blossomed during his tenure.

The year following, he left the security of tenure at the academy for his first professional management role with Connacht. Unsurprisingly it was for the same reasons he now leaves the Sportsground.

"When I stepped away from the Academy into professional coaching, I knew there is a shelf life on that, and it's a shelf life of relevance as well - you have to keep yourself fresh," he says.

"I have been a part of this bubble for the last 26 years. At some stage I would love to come back, and in order to keep that door open, I feel I need to keep myself relevant, I need to be fresh. I need to keep my eyes open to what else is out there in the rugby world, and I need to be challenged.

"The west of Ireland is a small enough bubble and we see the game through a certain lens and I just need that challenged as well."

Son of Mick and Anne, Carolan fell into rugby at Corinthians aged 14, along with brother Glen. He never looked back. He played with St Joseph's, the Bish, and also with Corinthians before "crossing the floor" to Galwegians, where he became an integral player for the Glenina outfit. A winger/centre he was a natural selection in Warren Gatland's Connacht - a team which challenged every notion that the west was inferior, securing a first home and away win in Northampton to qualify for the European quarter-finals.

"We've always had to fight hard to find a way to make ourselves competitive," he says, "and I think if you drop in the magic wand, you take away that fight and that chip on the shoulder that is synonymous with us. It is a key part of our identity, but consistency is what we are looking for.

"We have been so close in so many games this year. Having belief in our systems as players and as coaches, that is an area which we have built up, and now we are really disappointed when we let games slip away - eight points against Bristol was the greatest all season - so certainly we are transformed from what people called whipping boys to a very competitive team. When we develop that level of consistency, we will be a force."

Wants to come back

Carolan's departure announcement was made early, he says, for everyone to have "clarity", even though he does not have a new job lined up. While there are a "couple of things bubbling", there is "nothing in stone".

Both Andy Friend and CEO Willie Ruane, with whom he played under Gatland, have looked at ways to accommodate him "if things don't work out", but he is adamant he needs to push out of his home environment to grow. "That was my plan and I need to see it through and take the gamble that goes with it."

He does not know where he is headed, but he has the blessing of Andy Friend who has often followed a similar course.

"It is a gamble," says Friend, "but when he told me, my gut instinct was 'you are going to be a success'. It is brave, but he's going to be ok."

Carolan, who is married to Siobhan with children Milly and Ben, says he has "loved every minute" of his time at the Sportsground, but his "perspective is all Connacht with a green lens".

"If I am to grow and develop I need to widen that, and view the game with a different perspective. I can't imagine anywhere is going to be a whole lot better. I'm not looking for better, shinier, better stadium or facilities, just looking for a challenge that can be good or bad. Either way it is a challenge.

"It's not a secret I'd love to come back to Connacht some day, but in a better version of myself rather than just Connacht version."

No one is irreplacable, says Friend, "but the

 

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