Eric Elwood: A Tribute

Eric Elwood: A Tribute
Rugby Nerds
By Rugby Nerds
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Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Two weeks ago, around forty minutes after Connacht's loss to Ulster, Eric Elwood walked through the back door of the Sportsground's Clan Bar, where he was greeted by a larger than normal crowd for so late in the evening. Joining the cohort of fans who'd hung on to catch a glimpse of the playing heroes - Tommy Bowe was quite popular, unsurprisingly - was a large cross-section of the Connacht rugby community. Most of these people would by now normally be on the road to some part of the province or beyond, but we all had stayed for this moment. Eric was honoured by us all, rightly enshrined into the Connacht Clan Hall of Fame in one of the last acts of his time with the team.

He first played for Connacht in 1989, 24 years ago. Add in countless underage appearances, and Elwood has probably been living and breathing Connacht rugby for over three decades. During his peak in the 1990s, a time when rugby wasn't en vogue in Ireland, and even less so in the West, he was our beacon on the international scene. He shone against England in 1993, against Wales four years later, picked up 35 caps and played in two World Cups. For a long time he was Ireland's best Number 10, and for even longer he was our talisman.


Eric was to the fore in our early European forays. He marched on IRFU HQ standing shoulder to shoulder with fans, when the future of Connacht rugby was very much at stake. Like us, he was abhorred at the thoughts of his province being discarded. When time ended his playing days, Elwood didn't leave. He moved immediately into the coaching staff before taking the top job three years ago. Tonight, he'll finally begin the break he deserves.

As the brief event of two Fridays back came to an end, it struck me how much of a legacy Eric Elwood will leave behind. Connacht rugby might still play on a pitch in the middle of a greyhound track, but now it's enveloped by thousands of fans. Not long ago, 1500 would have been an impressive crowd for a Connacht home match - this year's average attendance is over 5000. Those fans have been treated, in the last 16 months or so, to wins over the European champions, the team they beat in that final, the eventual Premiership champions and legitimate aristocrats of French rugby. We may still be the fourth province, but Connacht is a coming force.

A lot of that, admittedly, has come by piggybacking on Leinster's successes to get into two successive Heineken Cups. However, to have performed admirable at European club rugby's top table is something we are proud of. Reaching such a stage has a struggle, but Eric was our general leading us into battle along the way. Now, he'll be among us - Elwood finished his speech two weeks ago by saying that we would see him next year, alongside us in the Clan Terrace. I don't doubt that for a moment. Passion doesn't simply die.


So, tonight marks the end of our season, one where more steps forward were made. Eight wins is Connacht's most ever in the League, and hopefully we can make it nine against the Warriors. As fans, we'll say bon voyage and good luck to McCarthy, Vainikolo and a few more, while Fla and Johnny O'Concrete will be given a rousing send-off befitting two brilliant servants. But as for Eric... I don't know quite what will happen, or to be more precise, how it will happen. I am certain it will be a moment of unity where Connacht fans on the College Road and across the world raise our heads, our hands, our voices and our glasses to say thank you, Eric, for everything. I hope, and am sure, that it will be our greatest ovation for our greatest ever. Feel free to join in, wherever you are, whatever your colour. He's earned it.

---Gavin Grace

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