Connacht fans wouldn't have been banking on heading to Scotland, but are intent on getting there by any means possible
The final, how do you plan for it? If you’re from Leinster, you can just dig up the old folder that gets brought out once every two years. If you’re from Connacht, it’s a different story. It definitely takes some thought.
This isn’t just a continuation of what has gone before, no matter how much they might try to tell you that. This is a whole new ball game and getting the preparation right could be the difference between winning and losing.
There really hasn’t been anything quite like what Connacht rugby fans have experienced this week at any point in Irish sporting history. Mass movements of supporters in rugby have happened before (Ulster 1999, Munster 2006 and Leinster from 2009) but on each occasion the build up was different.
Every single Connacht supporter that is currently on their way to Edinburgh had other plans just six short days ago. More than a few would have been hoping that things might change, and the epic adventure could take place, but they dared not plan in too much detail for fear of the jinx.
This weekend, ferries are going to be full of Connacht cars, while there will be supporters from Sligo, Ballina, Westport and Athlone all making the journey too. Then there are the six buses going from Galway to Edinburgh return with no overnight. Almost every plane is booked from London northwards.
And still, many many more have been left at home. If there had been a few more days to plan and a few more travel options, you could have probably trebled the amount of supporters that Connacht are going to bring.
Thousands of Leinster supporters will be there too; they had a head start on flights and accommodation so they might well be more prominent around the streets of the ancient city of Edinburgh on Friday night. By Saturday however, those six busses and a shed load of cars will be arriving from the ferries as the green invasion of Edinburgh begins.
What difference will all this make? Who knows, rugby might well be one of those sports where supporters can make a discernible difference. When bodies are on the line late in games and tackles need to be made, maybe the roars of encouragement can edge you that extra inch. For example, think of Tom McCartney’s tackle on Stuart Hogg before half time last week.
In some cases, the extra crowd can add to the pressure, a large group of Connacht rugby fans are from Mayo and know all abut mass movements of people to follow a sporting team, as well as the mix of joy and pressure that it brings to proceedings. However, come Saturday afternoon at about 4:15pm, the Connacht team will arrive at Murrayfield and get their first real taste of the support that has made this hastily arranged onslaught.
Judging by the way they have managed things this year, it is fair to say that this might well inspire them.
The Pat Lam mantra all season has been to take the exterior stuff - the crowds, the history, the media, the flight delays etc. - and to find a place for all of it over to one side. Don’t hide it, accept it and embrace it. Use it as inspiration and a motivation, positive or negative. As far as Lam is concerned, if you know it’s there, it can’t distract you and moreover, it could actually help you at some point along the way.
Side note: One imagines that Pat Lam’s utility room is one of the tidiest places in Galway.
Yet there’s a funny thing about sport. Leinster care too, they are also good, they also prepare well and hey, get this, many of them have played in World Cups, Lions Tours, Heineken Cup finals and a multitude of other high-pressure scenarios. They’ve been there, done that and, on most occasions for this particular group, they’ve won.
This group of Leinster players will look upon the Pro12 final as their own little fairy tale. Written off, ridiculed and derided earlier in the season, they can come back in May and stick it to the critics while delivering for their coach, a former Leinster hero and a true gent for good measure: Leo Cullen.
They’ll be looking at Munster entering week four of their holidays, Ulster enjoying their second week off, and there they are, about to put a plucky Connacht in their place and underline why they're number one.
If Leinster deliver one more big performance on Saturday and secure another Pro12 title, they will be well within their rights to walk around with a sense of self-righteousness for a few weeks. In a tough Champions Cup group and a World Cup year, they blooded more young players than most teams and can arguably be said to have over-achieved if they win.
So this isn’t all about Connacht; no final is all about one team, nor should it be. The neutrals will try to make it that way and will measure Saturday as a massive success if the public get what they want, or a bit of a damp squib if the big guns ruin the party. Still, there's more to it than that.
For Connacht, the story is one of grasping the opportunity. What’s great about all of this is they have been targeting a title and some silverware for months now. Go back over the transcripts of interviews from press conferences since February and you’ll see phrases like “play-off rugby”, “seeing this through” or “grasping the opportunity.”
If anyone thinks Connacht have been scrambling for a half-baked plan since Monday, they would be foolish in the extreme.
The technicalities and analysis of match ups will be done by smarter rugby heads than this writer, and they should be enjoyed, because this has the potential to be a fascinating tactical tussle between the Pro12’s best two sides in 2016.
Can Connacht win? Ten of the starting Leinster side from last week against Ulster are in the Irish 32 heading to South Africa. Two of them are not eligible and two others, Gary Ringrose and Mick Kearney, are heading towards such call ups. For Connacht, there are just four, with Quinn Roux in there too. That would suggest the bookies are right, and the underdogs are going to struggle.
Yet a large majority of the Connacht players that take to the field on Saturday will have a credible case to make that they are better than their opposite number, and if not, then they are wily old foxes who will feel that on this given day, they can get the better of their opponents.
If we’re being honest, the battle between John Muldoon and Jamie Heaslip is the one that best exemplifies this. No one is saying the Portumna man should be in the green of Ireland ahead of the truly outstanding Dubliner, but in the same breath, there isn’t a Connacht fan on the planet who would swap number eights this weekend.