Connacht close their 2012/13 season tomorrow evening in what is expected to an emotional farewell to the province’s most significant personality of the last 24 years, coach Eric Elwood.
Glasgow Warriors, currently in third place and seeking a possible home semi-final, are the visitors to the Galway Sportsground (7.45pm ), and Elwood is hoping to conclude what has been an illustrious two decades as a player and coach with a final flourish.
It is difficult for Elwood, his management team, and the players to keep the emotions of this farewell fixture in check, but Elwood says the best possible way to sign off the season is to concentrate on the game in hand and get the four points on offer.
"We know Friday evening is going to be emotional for a lot of people - not just me, but for players like Mike McCarthy, Adrian Flavin and Johnny O'Connor - but at the end of the day there are four points for the team that wins and we want those points so we can all celebrate."
Defence coach Mike Foreshaw, who has made a valuable contribution to the management team, and backs coach Billy Millard, who has helped shape Connacht’s youngsters, will also be moving on. In addition to Leinster bound-McCarthy, retirees Flavin and O’Connor, it will also be a final Connacht fixture for Fetu Vainikolo who has increasingly endeared himself to Connacht fans in his two seasons.
Vainikolo and McCarthy are expected to line-out for tomorrow’s fixture, but Johnny O’Connor is still doubtful. While Jason Harris-Wright and Eoin Griffin should be passed fit to play, a host of players are carrying various injuries, including outhalf Dan Parks who remains Glasgow Warriors' highest all-time points scorer, captain Gavin Duffy, and Michael Swift.
Glasgow travel in superb form and it is certainly not an easy final fixture for the home side. However Elwood is delighted to say his goodbyes at home.
“I am just happy to be finishing at home in front of our own fans,” he says. “Glasgow are a tough prospect, they are in the top four and they are a quality outfit. They have lost none of their traditional aggression at the breakdown, but have also added to their attacking play this season.”
Although Connacht cannot improve their eighth place from last season, Elwood says they have already surpassed the number of wins both home and away.
“We have the chance to build on the good results of the past two seasons and we still have an opportunity to get our highest number of wins, meet our targets, and to finish on a high for our ourselves and our supporters.”
Connacht’s determination and heart were once again the hallmarks of a superb result in the postponed Treviso match in Italy last Friday, coming from behind to grab a vital 23-23 draw which saw them stay above Cardiff in eighth place. The Connacht supporters, who are expected to be out in full force, can expect to see those qualities in abundance tomorrow evening.