by Ciarán Duffy
If you insist on calling Connacht the Leicester...
There’s Nothing wrong with drawing comparisons between teams in different sports. But sometimes, doing that means one teams achievements will be put in the shadow of the others. For the foreseeable future, every time an unlikely team wins something, they will be the Leicester City of whatever they were doing. It was special, it really was.
Leicester winning the Premier League was something very very special, that sport only throws up once in a while. It’s not just a giant killing, it’s a season of giant killings. It may not happen again for another 50 years, but it wasn’t a one off, because it happened week after week between August and May. A team that only a few seasons ago was playing third tier football, and just last season had to make a miraculous escape to avoid relegation. A summer that saw controversies with players and their manager sacked. And a new manager that had been in the game a long time but hadn’t won the big one, in fact he was told he never would win a league title when he left Chelsea. A bunch of players taken from lower leagues, suddenly turning into the best group of players in the league. And they won, and that was special.
But calling Connacht the Leicester of the Pro12 is misunderstanding Connachts achievement. Connacht are the Connacht of the Pro12. There were talks of them being disbanded at one stage, now they are champions. They have built a strong team, played a brand of rugby we thought could only exist in a mythical land called ‘the Southern Hemisphere’, and they got their just reward. But they aren’t Leicester, there story is a bit different.
Leicester came out of absolutely nowhere, they were not dark horses or outsiders, they were not even considered for a top half finish. That’s not Connacht. Connacht have been building and improving over the past few seasons, this has accelerated since Lam has come in. They were not tipped to finish bottom, they were looking at Europe. Whereas Leicester winning the Premier League is an absolute anomaly, Connacht winning the Pro12 was more achieving a goal ahead of schedule. The way Lam was building this team they were likely going to be challenging and winning the title in the next few seasons, but how quickly it has happened is phenomenal. I’m not at all understating the achievement that is Connachts Pro12 triumph, I’m just saying it’s one that came out of a foundation, not out of the blue. We’ve had two amazing stories across two different sports this season, lets not diminish them.
Or, much more likely for an article I’m writing, lets take it way too far. Lets go through the Pro12 and pick a Premier League team for each of them. Never mind that 20 doesn’t exactly go into 12 we’ll find a place for all of them. I’m pretty sure I have already broken multiple laws by putting this much football into an article on a rugby blog anyway so I’ll finish it off. Obviously there are differences in structures. Everyone in the Pro12 gets into Europe, but only some actually qualify for the Champions Cup. Whereas in the Pro12 theres only 4 spots for the Champions League and between 1 and 3 for the Europa League, for everyone else it’s domestic duty only. Also there is no relegation in the Pro12. But regardless of all that, this article is going to take rugby and football and put them together... and they will like it.
I’ve already gone through how Connacht are being compared to Leicester City because they are unexpected champions but shouldn’t be. In reality, Connachts story is unique, and they should be called the Connacht, because it is a special enough story on its own. But I have typed myself into a corner here, so I’m assigning them a team.
They are Southampton. Yes Southampton. Every transfer window is a nightmare for Southampton, they constantly lose their best players and have to replace them. Also, Southampton faltered in the Europa League qualifying stages, and having been well in control in their quarter final against Grenoble, Connacht really should have gone a step further in Europes secondary competition. So there ya go, next time somebody says Connacht are Leicester shout at them that they are Southampton. Now on to the other 11 teams (for whom there haven’t been a whole lot of comparisons to Premier League clubs anyway, so you could argue that this is all a bit unnecessary).
I hate myself for typing this, but Manchester City. I know, but there are comparisons and.. I KNOW! I don’t like it either but let me finish. For one thing, didn’t ye notice an influx of fans around 2008? When a lot of Chelsea fans adopted a lighter shade of blue, a few Lunsters started singing Molly Malone. A few big money transfers coincided with Leinsters success. Man City are loaded, Leinster are the richest province. Leinster have poached players, City have spent ridiculous money on smaller premier league clubs only to see them play one game.
Now I would like to destroy that comparison. Leinster have brought a lot of quality through the academy, and Leinster actually have been successful in Europe before. So maybe Leinster are more like Manchester United, after all that success under a legendary boss, we’ve had two in quick succession and fans are longing for the style of play that brought so much success. But I would like to destroy this comparison as well, Leinster actually managed to finish in the top 4. Glad that’s over, it didn’t feel good typing that. Sigh of relief moving on.
Obvious one could be Chelsea but it wasn’t the same kind of
implosion from Glasgow, they had a slow start but were still in with a shout of retaining their crown. I’m actually going to go with Newcastle United because, STOP SHOUTING JUST HEAR ME OUT, I’m going with the Toon Army because had they come good a little bit earlier, they would have achieved their goal. For Newcastle that was staying in the league, for Glasgow it was defending the title, both teams fell just short. Had Rafa Benitez come in a few weeks earlier, Newcastle would have stayed up, had Glasgows end of season form kicked in a game or two before it did, the two Edinburgh games spring to mind, they would have had a home semi-final, and there may not have been any stopping them. Hardly an unsuccessful season in the league and it’s not on the same par as getting relegated, but still it’s a season of what ifs.
A side that always finish in the top 4 but never actually wins the thing, that sounds like Arsenal to me. And despite being behind them all season, they still managed to finish above Scarlets, who are...
Tottenham Hotspur, because didn’t ye almost have it all. Unlike Spurs, Scarlets started the league well going unbeaten for a while. They both looked good to finish in the top 4 just like Spurs looked like they could overtake Leicester, but then it all fell apart. They’ll both be playing alongside the European elite next season, but it could have been so much more.
Beating the All Blacks, those Heineken Cup wins, that fine history, but they have not emulated it recently, that’s Liverpool. The pool stage of the Champions Cup went down like the Europa league final did for Liverpool, it all looked so manageable before falling apart. Although Munster actually did manage to get to the European Cup. Maybe Sunderland because they just about achieved their goal in the end. They won’t like that one.
Suppose Stoke City, high enough mid table no complaints. Didn’t set the world on fire or burn it down. Someone had to be Stoke. Nothing to see here move along.
Edinburgh are West Ham, because late form derailed their ambitions to play in Europe’s premier competition, but they weren’t necessarily expected to be there anyway. Could be a good season next season.
Everton, because they should be a whole lot higher up in the table. Ospreys were winning the Pro12 a few seasons ago and consistently there abouts. Likewise Everton were also hanging around the European spots. They have both fallen drastically this season.
The fact that they got to the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup resembles how Watford made it to the semi-finals of the FA Cup. In terms of the Pro12, West Brom because they didn’t do a whole lot except be in the league for most of the season, but still managed to get big wins over Leinster and Munster, just like West Brom beat Arsenal and Manchester United. Also Newport Gwent Dragons and West Bromwich Albion are two fine long names that need abbreviating.
They didn’t finish last and achieved their best ever season. Bournemouth were tipped to be relegated before they had even started. Zebre are like the Cherries because they were the supposed weakest team in the competition, but managed to play their way to a decent season
Norwich, Treviso were not as insultingly bad as Aston Villa so it is Norwich. From the very start it was clear that this was going to be a tough year. Treviso weren’t too far off, and looked like they would finish ahead of Zebre towards the end, like Norwich looked like they had escaped relegation, but they just didn’t have the quality in the end.
So there it is, the most football article you’ll read on Harpin’ on Rugby. Why didn’t I target my own football team? Well the title clearly specified Premier League and I’m a Charlton Athletic supporter, I’ve been through enough.
Before we go, a quick look at the Pro12 table:
2) Manchester whichever you want
3) Newcastle United
5) Tottenham Hotspur
7) Stoke City
8) West Ham
10) West Brom
Thanks for reading this, I’m going to lay low for a while after this, there may be some backlash from fans.
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Ciarán Duffy (@TheVoiceDepth) is a Leinster supporter who would watch any game of rugby while undoubtedly taking it too seriously. He enjoys over analysing and taking a pessimistic look at the bright side while talking about Irish, European, and World Rugby issues on and off the field.
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