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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Connacht building for future
Eric Elwood
Connacht will rely heavily on veteran Eric Elwood
BBC Sport Online assesses Connacht's hopes for the forthcoming rugby season.

Still the Cinderella province, Connacht hope to finally rid themselves of an unfortunate label.

They were dangerously close to being forgotten about when the Irish Rugby Football Union halved their budget last season.

But in their wisdom they now see Connacht as a nursery, reinstated their finances and have made sure that other provinces do not pinch some highly-rated youngsters.

Talented Gavin Duffy, who can play anywhere in the backline, and flanker Johnny O'Connor are just two examples of possible stars in the making.

Duffy is a strapping 6ft 2in, has great pace and a fine pair of deceptive hands.

He captained the Ireland Schools team the summer before last that travelled across Australia unbeaten from nine matches.

Connacht, however, have yet to decide what is his best position.

  Season tips:
Celtic League prediction: Pool stage
Inter-Provincial Champ prediction: 4th
Star player: Gavin Duffy

O'Connor, still only 19, played for Ireland A last season, and is seen by many as a successor to Kieron Dawson as a genuine openside flanker.

Springbok coach Steph Nel has also recruited well from Leinster with 22-year-old fly-half Mark McHugh, who appeared in three European Cup matches last season.

He is joined by Ireland Under-21 prop Des Dillon and Clontarf hooker Tommy Kearns.

Munster pair, prop Peter Bracken and flanker Paul Neville have also signed with the western province as has scrum-half Eoin Reddan.

But Connacht will again rely on the experience of veteran Ireland international Eric Elwood.

Elwood has been the main man for Connacht for nearly a decade, and he wants to bow out of the game guiding Connacht to some success in the Celtic League.

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