Eric Elwood’s announcement that he will step down as Connacht coach at the end of the season will come as a bitter blow to the province, not least because it will mark the end of a 24 year relationship.
In the last few years Elwood has overseen Connacht’s ascension from national also-rans to a European.
The turn around in the province’s fortunes has been no mean feat, and ultimately it has taken its toll on Elwood but more importantly for Connacht it leaves some very big shoes to fill.
Paul Lennon takes a look at some of the men who might be able to continue Connacht along the path Elwood has laid out.
Eddie O’Sullivan: The former Irish coach has been working as the Olympic Handball Association’s high performance advisor since leaving the U.S Eagles but would likely return to rugby if a job the stature of Connacht was offered. He would be a popular choice among fans as he led Ireland through one of its most successful periods and has experience of working at the highest level. He also resides in Ballinasloe and has already had a spell at Connacht in the 1990s as well as local clubs Bucaneers and Galwegians. He’s renowned for his coaching ability though his time with Ireland ended sourly.
Billy Millard: The current assistant coach would be seen as the favourite to take over the role if Connacht were to promote from within the club. Hai experience is limited to Sevens circuit coaching in Australia and two years with the Cardiff Blues. While a higher profile appointment is likely Millard could benefit from a desire for a seamless transition.
Dan McFarland: Like Millard the current forwards coach could benefit from a desire for an easy transition but his lack of experience mean that he would like be part of joint ticket with a more seasoned coach. He is widely respected throughout the province and Irish rugby as a whole.
Simon Easterby: Current Scarlets coach and former Irish International Easterby is an outside bet but he could be tempted by the challenge, especially if things don’t pan out in Wales this year.
Anthony Foley: Munster forward/assistant coach was overlooked for the head position in his native province last year though he was considered by many, including senior players like Jerry Flannery, to be ready for the head job. ‘Axel’s’ ambition is unlikely to see him spend too long more as a number two and Connacht may come at a perfect time for him to prove himself.