Thank You Andy

Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend Announcement 25/1/2021 Head coach Andy Friend Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

I couldn’t sum up in a tweet what the impact Andy Friend has had on Connacht rugby, and sat in front of a blank page it feels even harder still. When you look back to the time before his arrival, to think the province would be where it is now, it feels like something we couldn’t even dream of.

5 years ago Connacht Rugby was at a crossroad. Nearly a year after the departure of Pat Lam and 2 years after the biggest days of the province’s history. This was followed by the tenure of Kieran Keane, one that didn’t seem to suit Connacht, and the decision was made to terminate his contract to the shock of the Irish rugby press. A coach gone after only one year, that wasn’t the done thing. It was rarely done in rugby, not really done in Ireland, and especially not something that was done in a team like Connacht with its budget. Add in a departing John Muldoon, who was starting his own coaching journey, Connacht felt like a province that was losing its identity and those connections to its grassroot base.

That summer Connacht found Andy Friend, an Australian coach whose CV confused me to be honest. His latest coaching role had been in 7s rugby and his most recent 15s role was in Japan, a league that at the time wasn’t near the one that it is becoming today. From the minute he landed in Galway there was something about the way he spoke that just endeared everyone to him. Not only did he “get” Connacht, but there was a sense that he knew what Connacht could be and didn’t want the team he was taking over to grow under the shadow of the past.

There are countless testimonials of people that have been able to connect with Andy over his 5 years in the west. That openness with his time to connect with those for a chat, help those who needed it, and being an ever present figure across the Province. 

I remember a season ticket event in Elverys before his first season started. Players and fans mingling, a relaxed feeling in the air and everyone itching for that bit of a chat with Andy. A person that can make you feel seen, heard, and that your story is important in that small amount of time has a touch of class that many people can only dream of having. Every fan that was able to chat to Andy that night felt that connection from him. I walked away thinking if that’s what he can do in a few minutes with me, imagine what he can do for a team, how he can bring people together for a common goal. 

Something which he would need to be able to do over the next few years – Pro 14, Rainbow cup, URC, Challenge Cup, Champions Cup, Covid, reformats galore, quarantines, empty stadia – all on one of the lowest budgets in the league. 

Over his longest stint as a coach in one place, Andy brought a series of highs to Connacht rugby and some huge results that were signs that the team could compete on the biggest stage. While always putting out the aura that this should be the norm, this is where any team from Connacht should be and deserve to be. 

A win in Ravenhill in 2018 the first in 58 years, a first win in the RDS and the first win in Dublin since 2002. Big scalps in Europe that include beating Montpellier, Gloucester, and Stade Francais. All done while steadying the ship, making sure Connacht were competitive in the league and creating real tangible squad depth. Culminating this season with a QF victory in Ravenhill, one that never felt like a shock. The Semi-Final wasn’t to be, but the team performed with an energy, a desire, and style that screamed Andy.


Pats on the back for good performances isn’t what this team is about anymore (not that it ever was), but giving that a voice is one of the most important things Andy has brought to the team environment.

Off the pitch as we got to know Andy, the man behind the coach. I know I couldn’t help but respect him more and more. Words like community aren’t just words to him, they feel like a core belief. When he could he got the team out and about into clubs reconnecting with that Connacht community. But it was on a human level his actions spoke volumes. In 2022 he took to the bike, led the Connacht family and cycled from the Sportsground to Sligo to help raise funds for Claire Carpenter, the wife of Connacht Development officer Ross Mannion after her stroke.

Seeing that made his past CV make more and more sense. A person that put family above all, as we found out when he spoke about 2011, taking time out of rugby to help his incredibly strong wife Kerri recover from her accident. Now once again is taking time to put family first before deciding his next step.

I always have the view that it is the people that make Connacht special. Be it those that are from the Province used to being the forgotten brother at times with a healthy chip on each shoulder (a good balance in life is needed). And those that choose to come here, be it a Connacht Clan Hall of Famer like Michael Swift, or a young player today looking for his start – we have you. That green jersey makes you Connacht, you weather the storms with us and you laugh in the face of the odds with us.

But to lead that. To harness that energy. It takes a special person. To improve the lot of a team that at times felt like it was about to hit rock bottom takes skill. To connect that team with its supporters on a human level took smarts.

Thank you and all the best in the future doesn’t seem enough but sometimes it’s all we have.

So thank you Andy for being you.

Thank you for being the person to bring belief back to the West. 

Thank you for bringing that grit & strength back into performances.

Thank you for making Connacht a team to be respected, maybe even feared.

Thank you for bringing the community back together again.

And hopefully wherever life takes you next, you’re as successful as possible, but mainly that it brings you the happiness that you and your family deserve.

Padraig Kelly

The 2nd Row


  1. Fantastic tribute, well thought out and written. As a blow in to Galway from Donegal, I’ve been blown away by Connacht rugby the last 10 years. To leave Connacht in the shape they’re in, and with the promise of next and following seasons is a testament to Andy Friend in particular (and so many more!). Given the issues of covid, limited budget etc., and looking across the Irish sea at the problems in Wales and England, Connacht are in rude good health. Andy Friend, gentleman and Connacht legend. Sometimes nice guys do make it! Thanks for the smile on our faces every game day Andy. Safe home to yourself and Kerri.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Padraig for putting it so eloquently. The passing of the baton by Andy is happening in what seems to be a seamless fashion which bodes well for the future of Connacht. We will miss himself and Kerri but they leave such good memories and friendship in Connacht. I wish you both well, Andy and Kerri, happy new adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

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