John Muldoon unafraid of change in Connacht
The province’s joint captain is enjoying life under new coach Pat Lam
John Muldoon in action against Cardiff last week, a game in which he won his 200th Connacht cap. Photograph: Darren Griffiths/Inpho
Connacht’s Got Talent! Not just on the pitch but, it transpires, Pat Lam is also searching to develop hitherto hidden talent off the pitch as well. As part of their pre-season camp in Lacaune, a tiny village in the Midi-Pyrénées, the squad and management were divided into four teams for the opening contest, with the winners performing synchronised swimming in the hotel pool.
Another squad social event, back in Galway, was a themed ’70s night, in which the entire squad and management, divided into four teams, had to perform an act.
John Muldoon, for one, never envisaged the day he might have to perform a song and dance routine, much less synchronised swimming.
“To say I’ve been taken out of my comfort zone a lot over the last two or three months would be a massive understatement,” says Muldoon. “I’ve certainly done things that I never thought I would do, and I’ve done more of them in the last three months than in the previous 11 or 12 years.”
There are also weekly fitness or training games, and Muldoon is proud to say he’s been part of both winning teams in the “Connacht’s Got Talent!” and the ’70s party, alongside the likes of Gavin Duffy, Paul O’Donohoe and Miah Nikora. But he admits the RTÉ judges can also relax, and adds: “There’s a video going round of the synchronised swimming but I hope to God it never comes out.”
No two coaches are the same, but Muldoon says Eric Elwood and Lam are very different. Not being from Galway, Lam is keen to know his players better. “Pat likes to enjoy the squad and make sure the squad are enjoying themselves. He hides his emotions more, and that makes him trickier to read and know where you stand. With Eric you knew, because he’d tell you straight out,” says Muldoon with a knowing chuckle.
Shyness clearly isn’t tolerated. On Lam’s very first day in the job, he stood up in front of his new charges and gave a power-point presentation – on himself and his family.
Such candid self-revelations will be obligatory for everyone over the course of the season. It is also breaking down barriers.
“It’s funny, you think you know some of your team-mates, but they give anything from a three- to 10-minute power-point presentation, and you came away learning two or three new things about them,” says Muldoon. “But, honestly, it’s been very good.”
These are interesting, and changing times, out west. Not only has Lam taken over, David Ellis is arriving next week as kicking/skills coach to replace the departed Billy Millard, and with Mike Forshaw gone as defence coach, the Academy coaches, Jimmy Duffy, Nigel Carolan and Cory Browne, along with the Academy players, have been integrated more. They are also, of course, without a chief executive since the departure of Tom Sears.
Muldoon himself is in a good place. Two seasons ago, he was Connacht’s player of the season after starting all but two games, coming on as a replacement in them. Last season though, an injury against Zebre in their second Pro12 game ruled him out for four weeks, before knee ligament damage in the Irish Wolfhounds win over Fiji last November sidelined him until mid-February.
This forced him to watch four Heineken Cup games and the Christmas derbies, including the home wins against Biarritz and Leinster, and he never really regained his form or his place. The lads ahead of me were doing better; Eoin McKeon, Mick Kearney and Andrew Browne.